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Smart Bar: Chicago's Independent Nightclub

Updated on November 16, 2014

Smart Bar: Chicago's Independent Nightclub

Smart Bar is one of the country's most renowned independent nightclubs. Established in July 1982, Smart Bar has become a playground for new and developing local artists/DJs as well as showcasing the best cutting edge music from around the globe for twenty-five years. Read more about the history of Chicago's Smart Bar below, plus check out photos, videos and more!

All About Smart Bar, Home of Chicago House - 25 Years And Going Strong

Smart Bar began in 1982 as a way to bring new and exciting dance music and DJ's to Chicago. Since then, Smart Bar has accomplished this goal repeatedly and established itself as one of the country's premier cutting edge nightclubs. At the cusp of a quarter century of bringing new music to Chicago, its time to take a look back at how Smart Bar has come so far.

Throwing Parties for Friends: The Beginning of a Dream

Owner Joe Shanahan left his hometown of Chicago for New York City in the early 1980s, intending to explore by immersion the developing art, music and dance culture taking over popular culture. At the conclusion of one year, he returned to Chicago and realized that there wasn't a club that brought together the visual, performing, experimental and fringe arts communities.

Seeking to fill that void, Shanahan drew upon his friends and travel experiences, and began to host parties for the arts and performing community in his loft. Exploiting the camaraderie in the local art community, Shanahan began to combine these DJ-driven parties with local gallery openings and live music venues. Attendance ballooned, and the parties quickly outgrew his loft space.

Finding A Home at 3730 North Clark

An local promoter directed Shanahan to 3730 North Clark Street, the building that would become Smart Bar. Originally built in 1927 as a Swedish Community Center, the building was a jazz/folk club called Stages Music Hall when Shanahan came upon it. Shanahan was enamored with the space, and opened Smart Bar in July of 1982 on the top floor of the building. Eventually, Shanahan moved Smart Bar into the lower level of the building and took over the main floor, opening the live music venue Metro there.

Building From the Foundation Up

Smart Bar became a quick success. Groundbreaking DJs Frankie Knuckles and Joe Smooth would spin regularly while bands like Ministry and Trent Reznor showcased their new "industrial" music by playing tapes of freshly recorded tracks for the crowd. The club brought in DJs from every part of the world, as well as providing a space for local DJs to develop and grow. Smart Bar also developed a symbiotic relationship with Metro, the upstairs live music venue, hosting after party shows and allowing a space for rock and dance fans to mix and explore each other's music, as well as opportunities for DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Fat Boy Slim to play the larger room upstairs.

Design and Sound For The Future

In early 2006, Smart Bar re-launched with a new design and new sound system. Interior architect Thomas Shoner, in collaboration with Joe Shanahan, designed Smart Bar's new interior design and layout, which includes more seating, dynamic colors, and a full wall mural featuring local artists. Smart Bar tapped Funktion One, the UK audio company responsible for legendary night club systems across the globe, to power the new dance floor. The design was recognized by committee of The 2007 Club World Awards, who presented Smart Bar with the award for Best Club in March of 2007. In 2008, Smart Bar continued the upgrade with the addition of four additional Funktion One Infra Bass 218 cabinets and eight more subwoofers, making this the most extensive sound system in Smart Bar's history

To Be Continued

In 2007 and 2008, Metro and SmartBar have been celebrating 25 years of showcasing new and developing local artists, cutting edge DJ's and new genres of music. In keeping with its dedication to new and emerging artists, Smart Bar hosted the first ever appearances in Chicago of a host of artists including Justice, Switch, Digitalism, Boys Noize, Para One, Stanton Warriors and Claude Von Stroke. On New Years Eve, Switch returned to Smart Bar to ring in the new year. With continued accolades year after year, including AOL Cityguide's Best Dance Club, the 2006 Club World Awards Nightstalker Award for Best Underground Club, 2007 Club World Awards Award for Best Club and more, Smart Bar has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

Smart Bar New Years Eve 2009! - Check out this new video from Smart Bar about their New Years Eve event

Did You Know? How Smart Bar got its name - A little known fact about the origins of Smart Bar!

A Confederacy of Dunces: A Novel
A Confederacy of Dunces: A Novel

Smart Bar got its name from an exchange between two characters in this book, where they describe a bar they would like to go to as a "smart bar".


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What do you like about Smart Bar?

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Smart Bar On A Map

Smart Bar:
3730 N Clark Street

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What was your favorite Smart Bar event?

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    Post Comment

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 

      7 years ago

      Next time I'm in Chicago I have to visit.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      What an interesting lens! You make the Smart Bar sound a really desirable place to visit and I'm annoyed that I can't even get to Chicago to drop in.

    • profile image

      flowski lm 

      10 years ago

      Next time I'm in Chicago I'll have to visit the Smartbar it sounds cool, thanks!


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