Street artist Don't Fret has turned Wicker Park's Gold Star into a 'conceptual watering hole' called the Light Times Club


  • Courtesy Don't Fret

Last week, Chicago street artist Don't Fret set out to punk the hair-trigger newshounds at DNAinfo, dispatching bait in the form of a cheeky false press release announcing the opening of a sports bar inside beloved Wicker Park stalwart Gold Star.

With over 40 HD TV's and an extensive list of domestic craft beers, the LTC will be your one stop for any Hawks, Bulls, Bears, or Cubs game, as well as exclusive showings of college sports of all varieties. We will also have an extensive daily rotating all you can eat chef driven nacho buffet ready for sports fans with a serious appetite! We at the LTC strive for every regular to feel like a guest! The LTC likes to think differently, and we will provide the ultimate in luxury sportsbar entertainment for a neighborhood flourishing with luxury apartments! Please join us for our soft opening April 1st where we will give you a taste of what Division Street can expect for years to come…plus a potential guest appearance by former Bull Bill Wennington!

There will be no nachos—and, alas, no Wennington. Nonetheless Don't Fret's actual Gold Star takeover, which he's dubbed the Light Times Club, seems promising. From April 1st through the 4th, the bar will showcase work by the prolific street artist and his friends, as well as cocktails from Ryan Holwerda (Cindy's) and Pat Grosso (Berkshire Room), and a selection of beer courtesy of Pipeworks Brewing's Kate Brankin.

Don't Fret has been rather cryptic about the project, but after some supersecret back-alley deals, the Reader was able to get in touch so he could elaborate on the Light Times Club.

Why were you interested in turning a dive bar like Gold Star into a "conceptual watering hole"?

I'd been trying to think about a project that would talk about the changes happening in the neighborhood. I was very enamored with the history of Gold Star and how sad it would be if it were gone, so it became an April Fools' joke: We’re going to say that Gold Star's closing and turning into, basically, Fatpour. We literally copied and pasted things from their website [for the fake press release]. [Laughs.] Not intentionally to scare people, but a lot of people freaked out. As would I had it been true.
A painting by Don't Fret as part of the Light Times Club at Gold Star - COURTESY DON'T FRET
  • Courtesy Don't Fret
  • A painting by Don't Fret as part of the Light Times Club at Gold Star

Your large-scale murals and wheat-paste pieces have been popping up all over town throughout the past decade. Do you see the Light Times Club as a living, breathing, drinkable version of your art?

I'm interested in creating unique moments and spaces. The Light Times Club is a watering hole within the world of my art, and to a large extent based within the world of Chicago dive-bar culture. Chicago is a two-fisted drinking, shot-and-a-beer kind of town. The corner bar is as essential to life as the pharmacy. Bars like Gold Star and Rainbo have been throwing art shows for years, and have traditionally been watering holes for the artistic community in Wicker Park. I wanted to create a space that talks about the history of my neighborhood, Chicago history, and dive-bar culture.

  • Courtesy Don't Fret

Is there a specific feeling you're aiming for?

All three of us [Don't Fret, Brankin, Holwerda] grew up in the city. I think we have this romantic idea of what Chicago is and was—and the story was steel and stockyards. And now that's changing. Part of Light Times Club is honoring the working-class watering hole.

There’s definitely an air of nostalgia about the whole project. I remember the old Puerto Rican drunk sitting on my stoop drinking 40s, and then at night screaming, waking me up—and now instead of Puerto Ricans screaming, it's young white dudes from Schaumburg yelling about their girlfriends. And I don't know which is better or worse in the context of the neighborhood bar. [Laughs.] 

Mugs by Don't Fret at Gold Star - COURTESY DON'T FRET
  • Courtesy Don't Fret
  • Mugs by Don't Fret at Gold Star

What can visitors to the Light Times Club expect?

I think it's much more about creating a feeling of a place. My paintings are going to be all over the space, but they're not necessarily the most prevalent element. There's going to be a lot of photography, mixed media, work from a few other artists that have either shown with me in the past and are friends, or they're artists that have shown at Gold Star. There's definitely a lot of my humor and skepticism in it, but the bigger theme is a celebration of Chicago neighborhoods and what it means to be a neighborhood bar.

A celebration of what remains.

Yeah. A nod to the past and an ode to what's present.

  • Courtesy Don't Fret

The Light Times Club opens April 1 at 7 PM and runs through Gold Star's closing hours on April 4.

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