From its modest beginnings as a “newspaper pub” dating back to 1951, Andy’s has become an internationally renowned jazz club and a Chicago legend. In doing so, Andy’s rivals other legendary Chicago jazz venues like the Green Mill, Jazz Showcase and Pops for Champagne by offering talented jazz musicians playing to appreciative crowds ranging from Loop and River North office workers and visiting jazz enthusiasts. This, along with a relaxed atmosphere and a good selection dinner entrees, makes for a great evening for a lot less than you’d expect to pay.
Andy’s can be found just east of State Street on Hubbard, within the shadows of the Michigan Avenue overpass, and steps from preeminent River North sports bar Mother Hubbard’s. Here, Andy’s can quickly be spotted with its bright yellow awning with blue lettering that extends forth from a tasteful multi-story brick building. An array of colorful neon signs advertise live jazz, fine food and cocktails in the front windows. Walk through the payphone-lined entryway, and you’ll find an older gentleman in the evenings on your left who will welcome you in and take your cover charge that runs from $5 (Sun-Thu) to $15 (Fri/Sat), and there’s a two-drink minimum at the tables (no minimum at the bar).
Andy’s consists of one large carpeted room with a high ceiling held up by a series of thick, circular, brown columns with pealing paint. Next to the exposed pipes and precariously-rigged loudspeakers, several ceiling fans once dispersed a thick blanket of smoke prior to the Illinois smoking ban. The north end of the room is dominated by an oval-shaped, wooden bar surrounded with black vinyl, high-backed chairs. Here, middle-aged bartenders serve a variety of cocktails and beer at times bedecked in sweaters under a non-revolving Budweiser Clydesdales sign. It was here that I first learned what a dirty martini is: a regular martini with extra olive juice. What initially sounded as appealing as swallowing lint is now my defacto jazz club cocktail.
A plethora of crookedly hung photos adorn the wood-paneled “Wall of Fame” across from the bar, so noted in bright orange neon. This area highlights many of the local and national performers that have graced the modest stage at Andy’s. The infamous performance space is located next to the Wall of Fame and consists simply of an elevated wooden stage and simple black backdrop with the bar’s logo: a jazz-era couple toasting with beer mug and cocktail glass… perhaps a Pink Poodle? More photos of jazz musicians hang on the dark maroon-painted west wall with black trim, while colorful banners hang near the stage and around the room. These festive cloths commemorate each annual Chicago Jazz Festival, and Andy’s participation in it, since its beginning in 1978. The Chicago Jazz Festival happens to be the city’s longest running lakefront music fest and features jazz performances by local, national and international performers on several stages. Every August, jazz lovers visit the fest by day in Grant Park and head afterwards to a series of bars like Jazz Showcase, Green Mill, Velvet Lounge, BackRoom, Pops for Champagne, Joe’s Bebop Cafe, Katerina’s, and the Chicago Cultural Center in addition to Andy’s. Many of whom do so with organized tours by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.
A decent-sized dining area takes up the other half of the room, filled with low-slung tables with white tablecloths and votive candles. Patrons dine under the glow of stained glass Schlitz lights (turned off during performances) and are served by a back bar located below a plethora of neon beer signs and a blue glow. Here, jazz fans have the best view of the stage as the columns may block your view from the bar depending upon which seat you’re able to nab. Some of the tables are even close enough to the stage to see the sweat bead on the musicians’ faces as they launch into a solo. The jazz talent at Andy’s consists of internationally acclaimed jazz artists like Chuck Hedges, Franz Jackson, Art Hoyle, Wilbur Campbell, Paul Wertico, Erwin Helfer, Truck Parham, Barrett Deems, Sam Burckhardt, and Von Freeman of the Apartment Lounge. Most of these performers have been played here for years, in-between world tours, and play at either 5pm or 9pm. In addition to traditional jazz, you’ll occasionally find Dixieland, swing, and bebop.
“The only common denominator among the patrons seems to be the fact that they all left work early, or did not go to work that day at all. You may think there wouldn’t be very many people like that, but Andy’s is almost always jammed. Here shirt sleeves may be rolled up and ties loosened or even thrown away,” is how Dennis McCarthy described Andy’s in 1985 (The Great Chicago Bar & Saloon Guide). The shot-and-a-beer crowd has yielded, for the most part, to tourists, hoteliers, conventioneers, white collars, students, hoteliers, and jazz aficionados of every age and background. Those under 21 are allowed, but must be accompanied by a guardian. The result is a casual, unpretentious atmosphere (note: no dress code) that is very welcoming although usually busy.
If you’re hungry, “casual dining” is available until midnight and consists of seafood appetizers, salads, thin-crust pizza, burgers, sandwiches, pastas, ribs, steaks, aged prime rib, stuffed quail, a few salmon dishes, and even swordfish, all priced between $8 and $15. You may want to call and make a reservation for dinner if you don’t want to wait, as the place is busy any time of day, particularly after 6:00pm. While I haven’t had a bad experience personally, Andy’s sometimes takes hits on local entertainment message boards for not having the best quality of food or service, but hey – you’re there for jazz, right?
“The hardest working bar in the jazz business.”–The Official Chicago Bar Guide (1994)
For many years, Andy’s was a grungy hangout where printers from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times convened at all hours, like at the nearby Billy Goat Tavern, until it was bought by Scott Chisholm in 1974. According to the Sweet Home Chicago The Real City Guide (1993), “The present jazz resurgence pretty much started here with the experiment, in 1978, of ‘Jazz at Five’ in an old pressmen’s bar; it caught on and now the pressmen are gone, the yuppies are there in crowds, and there is also ‘Jazz at Noon’ and ‘Jazz at Nine.'” Today, much of the old decor remains and features two different bands every day The “yuppies” still come to this eclectic jazz saloon but so do all other walks of life to hear some of the best jazz in the city, have something to eat, and have enough money to go out the next day and do it all over again. No matter how much you’re into jazz, Andy’s is a great place to impress whoever you’re with as they will be sure to be amazed that you knew enough to come to this jazz legend. For more information and listings of upcoming bands, check out the Andy’s Jazz Club website. In the meantime: bartender! Another dirty martini, and make it snappy!