How to beat age restrictions: the best Chicago music venues for underage fans

When I was a 15-year-old commuter from the west suburbs of Chicago, I told my parents I had purchased tickets to see pop punk bands Stickup Kid and Candy Hearts play an all-ages show at the Beat Kitchen. I lied to them and made up a story about how a friend’s dad would be taking us both to the show that night. Instead, I hopped on a Metra train towards downtown Chicago, took the blue line to Damen and struggled to decipher which way was north and which way was south before jumping on a northbound bus towards Beat Kitchen.

BEAT KITCHEN.jpg
Many venues offer a separate bar and kitchen in addition to their music venue

Before the show even began, a bouncer marked my hands with two bold Sharpie X’s. When I tried to speak with the members of Stickup Kid after the show, I quickly found out that my X’s made me a target for the venue’s bouncers, who ushered me outside before I could thank the band for an excellent show. Sitting on the pavement outside of the venue, I watched from outside as older fans bought the vocalist of Stickup Kid a few beers. This was my first time experiencing the negative effects of my young age at a music performance, and it certainly was not the last.

Many young music lovers have been in my position or have had other negative experiences due to their age. All too often, underage fans are crushed after finding out a favorite band or a stacked local lineup is playing a 21+ show; a show that’s highly off-limits for them. They look at their lousy, vertical ID and hold back the tears as they are forced to accept the unfortunate fact that they either have to miss their favorite band’s Chicago tour date, or find an alternative way into the show.

“I’ve found that as more of my friends turn 21, they’re playing a lot more 21+ shows and much less all-ages shows,” said Meghan Boyle, 20, a fan of Chicago’s indie rock scene. “When it comes to which shows to go to, I used to have a lot of options to choose from. Now, whichever shows I go to are usually the only ones I know of that aren’t 21+; it’s definitely taken a toll on my social life.”

BOUNCER
Chris Pluska, a security guard at Reggie’s Rock Club, places a 21+ drinking wristband on a patron

Dahlia Nava, 23, distinctly remembers the barriers she faced to see her favorite metal bands when she was a young high school student.

“Back in high school, most bands I wanted to see were mainly 18+. I sadly watched some of my favorite bands like Megadeth, Dethklok and D.R.I all come to town and I couldn’t make it because of my age,” said Nava. “There were some venues that allowed minors to attend with a parent/guardian accompanying them, but there was no chance in hell either one of my parents would have taken me.”

As more and more killer metal lineups passed her by, Nava decided she couldn’t bear to miss another show.

“In November of 2012 there were two shows at [a local venue] that I was dying to see,” said Nava. “Both shows were 18+ and I wasn’t turning 18 for another couple of months. My boyfriend suggested I go to a swap meet in Little Village to get a fake I.D to attend the shows. For $40 I obtained my fake I.D, got through [the] identification check and was able to attend both shows.”

However, the idea of obtaining and using a fake I.D. is too risky for many young people. In Illinois, possessing, distributing or obtaining a fraudulent I.D. is a Class 4 felony that can result in one to three years imprisonment and fines up to $25,000. Rather than face the possible legal repercussions of using a fake I.D, some underage fans figure out other ways to cheat the age restrictions.

When Boyle found out local surf pop group Beach Bunny was playing a 21+ show, she decided to completely disregard the venue’s age restrictions and find an alternative way into the show.

“I’m 20, so I had to sneak in through the back [of the venue],” said Boyle. “I was so paranoid the whole time that someone who worked there would see me and question me, but nothing happened. It was definitely in the top five most rebellious things I’ve ever done.”

REGGIES RED HANGING
Reggie’s Rock Club always allows young music lovers to see their favorite bands with a parent or guardian

Many teenage fans aren’t willing to break laws to see their favorite acts. For these law-abiding underage music lovers, there’s usually not much else that can be done to overcome strict age restrictions. However, the Metro in Wrigleyville, Reggie’s Rock Club in the South Loop, Thalia Hall in Pilsen and the Vic Theatre in Lakeview have a policy that allows underage patrons to attend any restricted age show at these venues, as long as they are accompanied by a legal parent or guardian that meets the age requirements.

“You’re allowed to legally be [accompanied by a parent/guardian],” said Robby Glick, owner of Reggie’s Rock Club. “It’s up to the parent. I know a lot of kids are really into music by the time they’re 11, 12, 13…and really want to see their favorite band. It’s disheartening if there’s no way for them to get in.”

For Joe Rothstein, a 19-year-old metalhead, having a father with a similar music taste has allowed him to take advantage of this policy and see shows that he could not have seen otherwise.

“My dad was cool enough to ‘sneak me in’ to a lot of shows,” said Rothstein. “I started going to Reggies when I was about 13 or 14. They’ve always been cool with kids going as long as there’s a guardian. Metro uses this policy too, although I rarely go there anymore. Not many other clubs in the city would allow this to fly.”

METRO
Metro is one of four venues that allows underage fans to attend shows with their parent or guardian

Unfortunately, for fans without understanding parents, there’s nothing they can do but wait out the years until they meet the age requirements.

“I’ve been into hardcore and punk for a couple years now and there are so many shows I missed, all because of my age,” said Julian Vazquez, 15. “There’s no way that people of young age can obtain booze [at all ages shows], so I don’t see why there should be an age restriction.”

To make things simple for young fans like Vazquez, and for music fans of all ages, Locals Only ranked 16 popular Chicago music venues on a 10-point scale to asses their age inclusiveness. Here’s our scoring system:

If the venue hosts all-ages shows, they received 4 points.

If the venue hosts 17+ shows, they received 3 points.

If the venue allows underage patrons to come to a show with a parent or guardian, regardless of the show’s age restrictions, they received 2 points.

If the venue hosts 18+ shows, they received 1 point.

A bonus point was given to venues that earned all 10 possible points and had a separate 21+ venue in addition to their main venue.

No additional points were awarded if the venue hosts 21+ shows.

Ready? Here’s our picks for the most age-inclusive music venues in Chicago!

A+

These venues earned all possible 10 points plus the bonus point. They’re marked with gold stars on the map above.
SMART BAR
Metro’s Smart Bar venue provides a separate location for their 21+ fans
  • Metro + SmartBar (10+)
  • Reggie’s Rock Club + Music Joint (10+)

“My favorite Chicago venue, hands down, is Reggies. I could go on about the awesome shows they’ve had and the tiny size of the venue, but it’s even more than that,” said Rothstein.

“Chicago is a city with a zillion hipster hangouts. You know the ones I’m talking about: the bars that scatter Logan Square and Wicker Park. Meanwhile, Reggies serves as almost a safe haven for metalheads, punks and rockers alike. It’s the only venue of its kind in the city and the friends I’ve made there over the course of 5+ years now I consider family to me.”

A

These venues earned a perfect score but didn’t have a separate 21+ music venue on the premises. Spot them on the map by searching for the red markers.
VIC
The Vic Theatre in Lakeview earned an A rating from Locals Only. The Vic hosts shows for all ages and allows young fans to attend with a legal parent of guardian.
  • Thalia Hall (10)
  • The Vic Theatre (10)

B

These venues are great for young fans, but be sure to read the fine print before purchasing a ticket—most of them don’t allow underage fans to attend with a parent or guardian that is of age. You can find these venues on the map by searching for the green markers.
Concord
Concord Music Hall in Logan Square earned a B ranking from Locals Only. The venue hosts a variety of shows, but stricty enforces age requirements with no exceptions.
  • Aragon Ballroom (8)
  • Beat Kitchen (8)
  • Bottom Lounge (8)
  • Cobra Lounge (8)
  • Concord Music Hall (8)
  • Lincoln Hall + Schuba’s Tavern (7)
  • The Riviera Theatre (7)
  • Subterranean (7)

F

While each of these three venues may be a great spot to catch a show, they definitely aren’t a place for those of us who still have vertical IDs. All of these venues host strictly 21+ shows. No exceptions.
  • The Empty Bottle (0)
  • Martyr’s (0)
  • The Mutiny (0)
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