Spoken word may not be quite the draw it was a decade ago, when poetry slams were all the rage. But we set out to find some places in Chicago were the wordplay still packs a wallop. Rather than heading to the expected spots (read: coffee shops and bookstores) we went straight for the local pubs, where the performers (and their work) are expectedly less inhibited and far more intoxicating. Here's what we found.
Jazz may be the typical forte of this Uptown haunt, but when the bands need a break, Chicago's local wordsmiths take the stage. And they've been taking it with fury since its weekly poetry slam's inception at the Green Mill in 1986. Over the years, the slam, hosted by Marc Smith, has featured a plethora of performing poets. The events take place every Sunday around 7 p.m. beginning with an open mic. After that, a number of featured spoken-word artists awe the crowd with rhyme and reason until the evening ends with a serious competition.
This unassuming diner, located just down the street from the Green Mill, has its own take on spoken word, one that revolves entirely around the city's GLBT community. The aptly named Homolatte reading series, hosted by Scott Free, features gay and lesbian spoken-word artists on the first and third Tuesday of each month, beginning at 7:30 p.m. You can check out work by past performers on Homolatte's website.
OK, so we're straying a bit from poetry for a minute here, but the stories told by this literary troupe are just too good to pass up. Produced by the Serendipity Theater Collective, 2nd Story is a strange and pleasing mix of storytelling, wine and music (you're bound to love at least one, if not all, of the above). The reading series is held monthly at two of our favorite vino-fueled spots; Webster's Wine Bar (second Sunday of every month) and Red Kiva Lounge (last Wednesday of every month). For just $10, you get to hear four to five different storytellers backed by a live band (for theatrical purposes like creating atmospheres, acting as a love interest, serving as dialogue and so on). For more information on storytellers, bands, schedules, or to purchase tickets in advance on 2nd Story's website.
Funky Buddha Lounge
This River West club's bold moniker sets high expectations, and its Supa Soul Sundays (9-11 p.m.) sure deliver. Expect a lineup of poets, vocalists and comedians, followed by local musicians and MCs. Afterward (11 p.m.-2 a.m.), you can dance to a mix just as eclectic as the poets (think hip-hop, rock, salsa, soul, pop, reggae and underground).
Inner Town Pub
Considering the crowd of hipsters and starving artists that stake claim to this Bucktown dive, it isn't surprising to find the same cats taking a poetical stance on open-mic night (Thursdays and Sundays, 10 p.m.). In fact, if you're at a loss for inspiration, this is the ideal spot to ignite your literary libido. Just take a look at the eclectic (and extremely dark) interior, which is something akin to the aftermath of a shipwreck; you're bound to find something on these cluttered walls to write about.