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The Best Clubs in America

Our insider picks for the most rocking small rooms in the country

venues that rock

For the first in a four-part series on great music venues, Rolling Stone polled 24 insiders and musicians – from Miranda Lambert to Thomas Mars of Phoenix – and came up with a list of the most rocking small rooms in America. Read on for our expert panel's picks, and visit our Venues that Rock page for an interactive map and much more.

By Steve Knopper

 

 

 

 

Voters:
Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney, Corin Tucker Band)
Thomas Mars (Phoenix)
Britt Daniel (Spoon)
Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy)
Miranda Lambert
DJ Harvey
Bassnectar
Sharon Osbourne (manager, Ozzy Osbourne)
Scott Rodger (manager, Paul McCartney and Arcade Fire)
Dennis Arfa (agent, Billy Joel, Metallica, Rod Stewart)
Jim Guerinot (manager, Nine Inch Nails and No Doubt)
Tom Windish (agent, numerous indie-rock acts)
Andy Cirzan (promoter, Jam Productions in Chicago)
John Scher (promoter in New York City, manager of Art Garfunkel)
Kelly Curtis (manager, Pearl Jam)
Daniel Glass (head of Glassnote Records)
Michael Rapino (Live Nation)
David T. Viecelli (agent, Arcade Fire, David Byrne/St. Vincent, many others)
Brian Ahern (agent, William Morris Endeavor)
Bob McLynn (manager, Fall Out Boy, Courtney Love, many others)
Bertis Downs (manager, R.E.M.)
Jake Schneider (agent, Bassnectar)
Andrew Cook (manager, Deadmau5)

Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL

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Lincoln Hall in Chicago

Longtime Chicagoans know this castle-like 1912 building for its rooftop – where FBI snipers stood to make sure mobster John Dillinger didn't escape from the nearby Biograph Theatre. The crew from Schubas Tavern renovated this space in 2009, turning it into a two-level, 600-capacity live-music venue that Chicago-based agent Tom Windish calls "the Bowery Ballroom of the Midwest."

Capacity: 600
Website: www.lincolnhallchicago.com
Fun Fact: The building used to house the 3 Penny Cinema — Chicago’s first and only movie-theater with a liquor license.

Bluebird Theatre, Denver, CO

Brian Brainerd/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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Bluebird Theatre in Denver

The curvy-lettered, bright-blue neon marquee suggests a tiny, intimate club, but the Bluebird is actually a full-sized (400 capacity) room with a great balcony space. Built in 1913, then drastically renovated in the mid-Nineties, the Bluebird regularly grabs rising stars like Japandroids, leaving bigger names to the larger Fillmore and Ogden theatres down the street.

Capacity: 400
Website: www.bluebirdtheater.net
Fun Fact: The theater was featured in the 1995 movie Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead.

Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

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Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Ore.

Before opening this ground-level restaurant and basement performance space in 2004, Doug Fir's architects had to evict the rats and other detritus left behind by a damaged former diner, punk club and parking garage. The cozily redesigned, wood-paneled room ("like Paul Bunyan's home in outer space," one local writer put it) is perfectly located in central Portland, less than a mile from downtown. Try the Eggs La Bamba.

Capacity: 300
Website: www.dougfirlounge.com
Fun Fact: The Doug Fir is housed at the Jupiter Hotel, along with a tattoo parlor and a hair salon — perfect for that multitasking scenester.

Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL

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Empty Bottle in Chicago

With its plain brick facade and Old Style sign hanging out front, the 20-year-old Empty Bottle looks more like a plain Chicago townie bar than the city's most consistent punk-and-indie-rock club – not to mention the free jazz, skronky pop and other out-there genres it books. Chicago promoter Andy Cirzan calls the 400-capacity club "a kind of communal space for adventurous musicians and their fans."

Capacity: 400
Website: www.emptybottle.com
Fun Fact: For nearly 20 years, Radley the cat resided at the venue. The rock & roll puss passed away in 2009.

Largo, Los Angeles, CA

Angela Weiss/Getty Images for OneKid OneWorld

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Largo in Los Angeles

Five years ago, Largo – a club that had been booking young talent from John Mayer to comedians like Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis since the early Nineties – moved into the former home of the Coronet Theatre, a legendary L.A. space where Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles had performed. Today the club continues to showcase producer Jon Brion once every month, along with top comics such as Jeff Garlin and Reggie Watts. Says Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump, "One of the coolest things is seeing the highbrow crowd a show there attracts: 'Holy shit, is that Jackson Browne?'"

Capacity: 130
Website: www.largo-la.com
Fun Fact: You can't talk or use your mobile phone during performances, but liveblogging on a laptop is perfectly acceptable.

Bluebird Cafe, Nashville, TN

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Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn.

At this intimate Music City club, you can see a pro songwriter woodshedding new tunes, or meet a producer who changes your life (it happened to Taylor Swift).

Capacity: 100
Website: www.bluebirdcafe.com
Fun Fact: The cafe made its primetime debut on the ABC drama Nashville last year.

Continental Club, Austin, TX

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Continental Club in Austin, Texas

In its 56 years, the Continental evolved from burlesque house to anything-goes rock room to revamped rockabilly joint with a killer jukebox. Squeeze in, get sweaty.

Capacity: 300
Website: www.continentalclub.com
Fun Fact: The club was BYOB when it opened in 1957.

Crocodile Cafe, Seattle, WA

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The Crocodile in Seattle

Opened in 1991, this 525-person club hosted every important band of the grunge era, including Nirvana (billed as Pen Cap Chew) and Mudhoney in 1992 for $3.

Capacity: 525
Website: www.thecrocodile.com
Fun Fact: The Croc abruptly closed in 2007, but reopened in 2009 after undergoing extensive renovations that kept its signature stained glass intact.

Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA

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Great American Music Hall in San Francisco

Originally an ornate restaurant and bordello, this is a venue whose classy accouterments (old-fashioned marquee, ceiling frescoes, oak floor) bring out the best in bands and fans.

Capacity: 600
Website: www.musichallsf.com
Fun Fact: The 1907 building — built after the 1906 earthquake destroyed most of the city — is reputedly haunted.

Schubas Tavern, Chicago, IL

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Schubas Tavern in Chicago

This "intimate and warm-sounding little wooden box," as Viecelli puts it, thrived as a home for country and folk, though acts like Gary Clark Jr. make noise here, too.

Capacity: 165
Websitewww.schubas.com
Fun Fact: Co-owners Chris and Mike Schubas helped launch the careers of Dave Matthews and Feist.

Fox Theatre, Boulder, CO

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Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colo.

The former movie house mixes modern elegance with the everybody's-welcome warmth you'd expect from an old hippie town.

Capacity: 625
Website: www.foxtheatre.com
Fun Fact: It was once the Buff Café, billed as "Boulder's most modern eating house," in the Fifties.

The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA

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The Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif.

Few clubs have such an impressive history: The Troub was key to L.A.'s late-Sixties rock explosion and the glam-metal scene of the Eighties, a room where both Jim Morrison and Axl Rose became legends. More recently, everyone from Radiohead to the White Stripes has kept its legacy alive.

Capacity: 400
Website: www.troubadour.com
Fun Fact: Legendary potheads Cheech and Chong were discovered by Lou Adler at the Troubadour’s Monday Hoot night in 1970.

bowery ballroom

Nicole Fara Silver

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Bowery Ballroom in New York

Opened 15 years ago in a vacant jewelry store and haberdashery on the Lower East Side, the 550-capacity club is a must-play for bands on the way to stardom. David T. Viecelli, agent for Arcade Fire, says it's "another dressing room or two shy of perfection." It's both intimate and grand, with consistently great sound and sightlines, and touches of old-school class, like 84-year-old brass rails.

Capacity: 550
Website: http://www.boweryballroom.com
Fun Fact: Joan Baez’s live album Bowery Songs was recorded during her November 2004 show at the famed venue.

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