If you've been to Bridgeport's Texas Ballroom or Wicker Park's Jerkstore lately, you probably didn't realize you were there at the end. But the past month and a half has seen the last parties ever at those work/live/play spaces. Occupants of Texas will move out by the end of the month; Jerkstore was evacuated last weekend.
Jerkstore was the site of some of the most depraved events I've ever attended. The goal at its parties was to get folks wasted--way past accidentally tipsy--so they'd take off their clothes and make out with whoever was handy. It was fun the first time you did it, but after the third or seventh time it was just gross.
People hearing the news of Jerkstore's demise gathered on the Internet message board for Opaque Projects, the promotions outfit run by Jerkstore's Johnny Love, and reminisced:
"I once saw a guy take a leak in the corner when he couldn't be bothered to wait for the bathroom," wrote one partygoer going by the screen name ImperialCzarina. "My evenings at the J-hole usually end with someone grabbing my crotch (not wanted!) or someone shoving ice down my undies."
"I didn't actually see this," wrote ianchicks, "but someone told me about this guy that was sucking on some girl's tittie when she was slumped against the wall talking on her cell phone."
"One time," said LanceMilk, "i snuck into johnny's room while he was djing and banged a chick. the sheets got really messy too. thats why he finally put a real door up."
Kitty puncher confessed: "I once found a beer in the top tank of the toilet in there and drank it."
Jerkstore had a history of celebrating the debased and despicable and trying to make them sexy. Party themes have included pedophilia, airheads, and goths. The e-mail invite to a party called "Daddy's Goodnight Blowjob" said: "You will ONLY get free beer if you are IN THEME. So quit being a whiney little cunt and get undressed like everyone else has been."
A party on February 11 was in honor of Johnny Love's 23rd birthday. The theme? Eating disorders. People showed up with ribs painted on their bodies; one girl had fake vomit on her shirt. "It was a reason to get people in their underwear, just like anything else," says Love. He splurged for the occasion. "Usually I put single-ply toilet paper in the public bathroom," he says. "I wanted to treat myself with double-ply. But then the kids used too much of it and clogged the toilet." Sewage went streaming into the Blue Line Club Car restaurant downstairs, and not long after came the cops.
It wasn't the first time police showed up at a Jerkstore affair. The only mystery is why the place didn't shut down sooner. At one party I saw the police come in, look around, dance with a half-naked girl in pigtails, and leave, then return to get a guy with a camera to delete any pictures of them. Love insists he never had an arrangement with the cops.
The difference this time, says Johnny, was that "the owner was pissed." They were told to be out by the end of the month, but they decided to move right away.
A party called "Neverland" was the straw that broke Texas Ballroom's back. Billed as a noise show-cum-birthday celebration for resident Kate Fadden, the party two Fridays ago had been talked about on message boards and in bars for weeks beforehand. After a few busts by the city Texas took a long hiatus starting last November. This party would be its comeback. "I'm scared of this one," resident Jesse Batesole wrote on a message board affiliated with Lumpen magazine.
Around 2 AM, says Batesole, after he'd left the party and gone to sleep, a few neighborhood roughnecks came in and caused a ruckus. "From what I understand," he says, "someone was screaming that one guy had a knife. There were rumors someone was stabbed." Thankfully those rumors were unfounded, but outside, in front of the building, tow trucks were hauling away cars parked in violation of winter parking regulations, "and some guy was so fucked-up he jumped on the hood of the tow truck," says Batesole. "Police came, picked him up, and dropped him back off." Then he smashed the building's glass doors.
The building's owner, Dan Jekic, had recently replaced the glass, which was broken during a party in November. "He told us he wasn't willing to put extra money in the building that he didn't have to," says Batesole. "He said, 'I've forgiven a lot, and I can't forgive any more. I need to change what's happening.' He was really gracious about it."
Fadden hopes to either move into a similar space or try to start her own. One Texas resident will be moving downstairs into another live/work space, Hey Cadets! Batesole already had plans to move out at the end of the month anyway; he and four of the six Jerkstore occupants, including Johnny Love, and another friend are starting a new venue in a 4,500-square-foot loft near Western and Milwaukee.
They don't have a name yet, but they know they want to keep throwing events, and not just the anhedonic free-for-alls that made Jerkstore infamous. "I always wanted to use Jerkstore to its full potential," says Love. "But I only had experience in throwing parties. Jesse has more experience in other events," like hosting live music and art openings. "I want to do more public events that don't depend on getting wasted." Oh, and throw some buck-wild parties, too.
"Nothing lasts forever," says Love, "but I'm hoping this place, since it's not in the middle of an intersection and there aren't so many people walking around, will be a little more under the radar for the general populace. Maybe that will help keep it alive a little longer."
"This is good for me," says Batesole, who's looking forward to working with the Jerkstore crew. "They know how to run events properly. It'll be nice to work with people who'll treat this professionally."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.