John Curley’s guide to Chicago: 5 essential spots

today10/08/2023 5

share close

In just three short weeks, thousands of house and techno fanatics will be descending upon Chicago for the 2023 edition of ARC Music Festival. Now in its third year, ARC has quickly established itself within the global dance music agenda, offering line-ups that bring together international stars, rising talents, and local heroes from the rich musical landscape of Chicago.

Read this next: ARC Music Festival is a house and techno celebration fit for Chicago

Taking place in the city’s Union Park across Labor Day Weekend, September 1 to 3, the daytime line-up features Black Coffee, Moodymann, Peggy Gou, Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, Mall Grab and many more, while a stacked set of afterparties takes over hallowed nightspots such as Smartbar/Metro, RADIUS and Spybar, with Patrick Topping, Ben Klock, The Blessed Madonna and Boys Noize b2b VTSS among the bills.

Ahead of the festivities, we hit up John Curley, co-founder of ARC alongside Stuart Hackley and Nick Karounos, to put together a guide to Chicago to check out during festival downtime, sharing some of his favourite spots to record shop, eat, drink, dance and marvel at a dance music wonder of the world.

Founded in 1969, Gramaphone Records is a must-see for any lover of dance music. Gramaphone is credited with being a space that “housed” the early stages of house, and they count legends like Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, and DJ Heather as former employees.

They carry an array of jazz, hip hop, house, techno, and more. Everywhere you turn there is a source of history and inspiration, and many of the employees continue to be the best working DJs in the city. So many of the artists we work with today started their careers shopping here – and continue to do so to this day.

Not quite deep dish – but still a Chicago staple. Pequod’s is a beer and pizza joint with a reputation that is supported by the locals. The pizza’s caramelized crust is crunchy and iconic. Get a reservation if you can.

Cermak Hall is adjacent to Auris’ largest venue – Radius. Built from the ground up to capture the raw industrial essence that only a warehouse can provide, the venue is also equipped with state-of-the-art lighting and sound designed for total immersion. The underground scene has thrived in repurposed warehouse spaces on the West and South sides of the city since the beginning, so having a space that’s more modernized but still emulates those roots was really important to us. When we have shows there it’s an atmosphere like nothing else in the city.

Read this next: 30 of the best Chicago house tracks

The Warehouse is now a historical landmark for Chicago, and rightly so. It began hosting shows in 1977 and really was the space where house music cultivated its original following. The Warehouse was a space for particularly marginalized groups, it gave them a safe space within the Chicago nightlife scene to feel comfortable in their own skin. DJs and dancers from all over the world still stop by for a photo to pay homage to this spot, and when you stand outside you truly do feel the weight of its history.

If you want to slow down your weekend (just a little bit), stop by the Green Mill for some jazz and cocktails. It has a mythological Chicago history during prohibition, with tunnels leading in and out of the bar that allowed easy access for Al Capone. Today you can catch some of the best jazz acts in the city, with regular sit-ins from internationally recognized players you’re always in for a treat. This is a cash only establishment – so keep that in mind if you stop by.

Get tickets for ARC and its afterparties via

Written by: Tim Hopkins

Rate it