City lights and summer nights: Kane County’s live music scene is hopping

Nick Smith knows that, by conventional wisdom, there were probably much better times to open a new live music venue than the summer of 2020.

But seen from a different perspective, the timing may not have been better for Smith and his partners to launch their new establishment, The Old Republic Kitchen + Bar on Randall Road in Elgin.

While operating as a full-service bar-and-grill-style restaurant, Smith said The Old Republic has built a large part of its reputation and following through its live music stages.

“We were outside, in the midst of a pandemic and music seemed like a good idea to help cheer people up and take a break from the stress of the world,” Smith said.

He said in that time period, opening a stage on an outdoor patio offered not only an outlet for people fatigued by quarantine-style societal restrictions, but also for local musicians seeking a place to strum and stretch the vocal cords.

The Old Republic Kitchen + Bar in Elgin offers live music. Courtesy of Old Republic Kitchen + Bar

And it offered an opportunity for Old Republic to quickly cement its reputation as a hot spot for live local music in the region.

“We were introduced to a huge community of musicians that were looking for a place to perform and, for many, playing music is their livelihood,” Smith said. “Old Republic became like an oasis for the music scene — and we’ve kept it going ever since.”

Kane County music scene

Throughout Kane County — particularly from Thursday to Sunday — residents and visitors alike find the local communities popping with live local music.

Those with their fingers on the pulse of the local nightlife and entertainment scenes say that in the aftermath of COVID, the draw for live local music at concert halls, restaurants and taverns has only grown stronger.

In the Aurora area, options for live music abound, said James Cardis, marketing director for the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Due to our proximity to Chicago and Aurora’s status as the second-largest city in Illinois, artists who build up a following here tend to stick around,” Cardis said. “It helps that we’re home to several outstanding venues for live music, all with something different to offer locals and visitors alike.”

While the Aurora area includes venues in DuPage and Kendall counties, Cardis noted the heart of its downtown includes a range of entertainment choices, from live performances under the stars at RiverEdge Park to a long list of talent in all musical genres in a “cozy listening room vibe” with “pin-drop acoustics” at The Venue to a long list of restaurants and taverns, such as Two Brothers Roundhouse.

In Batavia, music seekers can find a range of choices every weekend at the Sidecar Supper Club, with live performances from local and touring acts from 9 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and bluegrass performances from 5 to 8 p.m. Sundays. According to Sidecar’s website, performances are either “fireside” inside during the colder months or outdoors in the five-tiered beer garden.

In St. Charles, Nick Lowe, with the St. Charles Business Alliance, said the “vibrant music scene” in town is “one of the aspects that makes St. Charles stand out.”

“On almost any night of the week, a stroll through downtown will treat you to delightful tunes of skilled musicians delivering top-notch performances,” Lowe said.

During a week in April, for instance, a range of music choices could be found in St. Charles on a Wednesday and Thursday at Flagship on the Fox, and from Thursday through Sunday on varying days at Alter Brewing Co., Pollyanna Brewing & Distilling, The House Pub, The Wine Exchange, D&G Brewing, Riverlands Brewing Company, the Rox City Grill, the Moonlight Theatre, Club Arcada, The Evergreen Pub & Grill, and The Hive Tavern & Eatery, all according to a directory updated weekly by the St. Charles Business Alliance.

Lowe said the growth of choices has been a “noticeable trend” in recent years,“ with more and more businesses hosting performances.”

And communities at the county’s north end, from Elgin north along the Fox River to Dundee, similarly offer an array of music outlets, said Mary Dulabaum, with the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In that region, Dulabaum said “the highest honor of a not-so-hidden gem” goes to the RocHaus in West Dundee.

Opened a decade ago to replace the former Clearwater Theater, the RocHaus bills itself as “an oasis for artists, their craft and the patrons who love live performance.” In April, the RocHaus had scheduled an array of tribute bands for several different rock, metal, hip-hop and country acts, plus live stand-up comedy. In June, the RocHaus said it plans to offer a concert by the live Taylor Swift tribute band “Are You Ready For It … a Taylor Experience.”

Dulabaum suggests those seeking live music check out other “hidden gems,” including The Martini Room in Elgin, the Plank Road Tap Room and the Dutch Inn West, Elgin’s oldest continuously operating tavern.

Other destinations on the recommended list included Danny’s On Douglas in Elgin, Bandito Barney’s Beach Club in East Dundee, and The Old Republic.

At The Old Republic, Smith said his establishment has built its name on offering quality local musicians an outlet for their craft, while still offering guests “top touring acts if they happen to be routed our way.”

The music can vary by the night, ranging from Billy Joel-style singers to ’80s hair bands, Led Zeppelin tributes, ’90s music, solo acts and “full-vintage swing bands.”

“Music is a wonderful opportunity to bring people together,” Smith said. “And a strong marketing tool for a restaurant to attract different pockets of people looking for a great experience.”

Dine, drink and listen

Across Kane County, more restaurant and tavern establishments are grabbing hold of a growing trend: A desire among their customers for not just a great meal, but live music.

At the Sidecar Supper Club in Batavia, diners can enjoy a range of made-from-scratch entrees, including fresh-ground burgers and unique sandwiches to chef’s specials dinner choices, served as individual meals or as specially priced family-style Choose Your Own Adventure Supper Clubs.

Old Republic Kitchen + Bar in Elgin offers a full menu of dinner and drink options.

In St. Charles, Pollyanna Brewing doesn’t offer dinner, but does offer a long list of craft beers and spirits in their tap room to accompany live music every weekend.

And the region offers music at dedicated concert venues, including RocHaus in West Dundee, The Venue in Aurora and Evenflow in Geneva.

For those seeking dinner before a show at a local brewery or tavern, there are restaurant choices within walking distance of the music venues.

In West Dundee, there’s Emmett’s Brewing Company, Bamboozels, Blueroot or The Village Squire, all within a block or two of RocHaus.

The Venue in Aurora, situated near the Paramount Theatre, is surrounded by restaurants within a short walk, including Alice’s Corner Bolivian Cuisine, Amore Mio Italian Restaurant & Piano Bar, Boriken Puerto Rican restaurant, the Tavern on Broadway and numerous Mexican restaurants.

And the downtowns in St. Charles and Geneva abound with eateries, including in Geneva, FoxFire steakhouse, Burger and Sushi House, Bien Trucha, Aurelio’s Pizza and Riganato Italian restaurant, and in St. Charles, Alter Brewing Company Brewery & Kitchen, La Za Za Trattoria, The Office Dining & Spirits, Szechwan, The Graceful Ordinary and Taste of Himalayas. The Office and The Filling Station are open until midnight or later on weekends, with late-night food and drink options for those seeking to extend the evening.

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