The opening of the Double Door, a new midsize live-music club at Wicker Park's ground-zero intersection of North, Damen, and Milwaukee, both furthers the area's transformation into the new Lakeview and provides more evidence that the local club scene is going crazy.
The new operation is a four-man partnership of partners: Andy Barrett and Sean Mulroney, who started Sweet Alice and Delilah's, and Joe Shanahan and Joe Prino of Metro. Barrett, a longtime bar operator, and Mulroney, an attorney with the EPA, are cousins; they teamed up to open Sweet Alice two and a half years ago (though they recently sold it) and opened Delilah's with two other owners on the site of the former Crash Palace, on Lincoln, last summer. Prino and Shanahan took over Stages in 1982 and renamed it Metro, then Cabaret Metro, and finally Metro again a year and a half ago. (They also run the Daily Bar and Grill in Lincoln Square.)
While Wicker Park's growth as a hipster hangout has been ferocious over the past five years, the Double Door is the first upscale live-rock venue at the area's central intersection: the Czar Bar, at Wood and Division, books neighborhood bands and hosts the Homocore series, and the friendly, well-liked Empty Bottle in west Ukrainian Village has a knack for pulling in the occasional very hip show. The Double Door is a high-ceilinged room, running between Damen and Milwaukee behind Wild Cherry, that looks to hold 400 to 500 people. (There's no official ruling on its capacity yet.) A 70-year-old, 55-foot walnut bar runs down one wall; behind it is a kitchen. The club's main entrance will be on Damen, the stage backs up onto Milwaukee, and downstairs is a poolroom about half the main room's size. The foursome plans to have live music Thursday through Sunday and some sort of theater or performance art the other nights of the week. They're opening with a pair of acoustic shows by Lloyd Cole this coming Monday and Tuesday.
It seems like a nice space. "It's the best piece of property in the neighborhood," gushes Mulroney. The owners say they're committed to dressing the place up, though its current condition seems weeks away from Monday's opening. "We wanted to create a room that's several steps up from the smaller clubs," Mulroney says. "Our sound system is going to be second to none. There are going to be nice dressing rooms--bands will be very happy here." The new owners also promise that there will be sufficient and well-maintained bathrooms.
Until recently the site was occupied by a small liquor store on Milwaukee and a connected cowboy-biker bar called the Main Street Pub on Damen. It became available about the same time that the two sets of nightlife entrepreneurs were looking for some Wicker Park action. "We got a line on this place and approached Joe," says Barrett.
Shanahan is perhaps the key component of the venture, since a nightclub is only as good as its booker. He and Prino were DJs doing occasional dance nights together at Stages when the then-owners told Shanahan they were about to bail out of an upcoming show for monetary reasons. Shanahan had met the band in New York City. "I said, 'I'll put the money up--I know those guys,'" Shanahan recalls. "I talked to Prino about it and said I figured we could get 300 or 400 people in." And so R.E.M.'s Chicago debut became the pair's first professional booking. In the years since, with Prino running bar operations (including the Smart Bar dance club), Shanahan doing the booking, and a lot of help from Jam Productions, the club has evolved into one of the nicer rock venues in the U.S., having introduced Chicago to acts as big as the Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz, New Order, Depeche Mode, and Pearl Jam.
While most nights at the Double Door will feature local acts ("We're so strong right now," Shanahan says of Chicago. "There's so many good bands"), national Jam-booked acts will come in as well. Among other things, the club will help Jam complete a vertical line of clubs through which they can bring acts up. Currently they have connections with 800- to 1,200-person rooms like Metro, the Park West, and the Vic and arenas like the Horizon and the World, but missing up till now has been a smaller club. In Chicago that role has been traditionally filled by Lounge Ax, the Lincoln Park bar booked by Sue Miller.
The new Double Door is Lounge Ax's most significant competitor yet. "We're going to give them some amount of competition," Shanahan acknowledges, "but the Empty Bottle and Lounge Ax are going to continue to do well. There seem to be more and more people who are willing to take a shot at going out and spending their dollar on seeing a band."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Peter Barreras.