Jazz Scene Goes South
Funny how gentrification elbows out the very things that attract new people to a neighborhood in the first place. A few years ago, Wicker Park--though already en route to its current state of white-breadness--was still a little oasis for adventurous jazz, blues, and international music, anchored by two bare-bones clubs, the Bop Shop on Division and HotHouse on Milwaukee. You can still hear jazz seeping out of the space HotHouse was booted from, but it's coming from the Note, where it's little more than a sound track for high-priced booze and billiards. And the Bop Shop's former digs are garishly occupied by Liquid Kitty and Celluloid, the latest tacky concept joints from Dion Antic, the guy who's made a mockery of the martini at Harry's Velvet Room and Iggys.
Now Wicker Park's loss is about to become the South Loop's gain: A few weeks ago Marguerite Horberg, who struggled to keep HotHouse afloat for seven years, leased a new, 7,000-square-foot space at 700 S. Wabash; if all goes well the club will reopen in October. And last weekend, following a brief, unsuccessful relocation to Andersonville, the Bop Shop opened its doors at 1146 S. Wabash, next to the Roosevelt Hotel; proprietor Kate Smith says she has a 15-year lease. Consider them with Buddy Guy's Legends at 754 S. Wabash, the Cotton Club at 1710 S. Michigan, and even Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge down at 21281/2 S. Indiana and you've got the beginnings of one of the city's most exciting and substantive entertainment strips.
Though loft condos are already popping up in the area, Horberg is optimistic about what the new neighborhood has to offer. For one, "being in this area takes us to a whole new level of visibility to tourists," she says. Downtown tourists will be far more likely to cab it a few blocks south than over the river to Wicker Park. The close proximity of about 60,000 students--from Roosevelt, Columbia, DePaul, the Art Institute, and other schools--doesn't hurt either. "There's not a lot of services and amenities in this area," Horberg adds, "so having a place like HotHouse is attractive to developers and people who are new residents because it's a new place to go."
Horberg also hopes the new site will be friendlier to the city's various ethnic populations as well and aims to expand HotHouse's multicultural offerings, which in the past have included international jazz (Peter Brštzmann, Abdullah Ibrahim), a variety of top-flight ethnic music artists (Baaba Maal, Lazaro Ros), poetry readings (mostly Guild Complex events), and various community forums.
Since the HotHouse's demise in July 1995, Horberg has presented only a handful of concerts, such as the Free Music Productions festival at the Chopin Theatre and a rare U.S. appearance by Cuban legends Los Van Van at Martyrs', while the Empty Bottle, Oak Park's Unity Temple, and until recently the Lunar Cabaret have carved out a niche for themselves by doing a more streamlined job booking stuff that once would have been at HotHouse. It's a lesson not lost on Horberg. "I want our approach to be more directed, to organize things programmatically," she says; she hopes carefully planned concert series and festivals will keep patrons coming back.
She has also come to understand that red ink can submerge any amount of goodwill, and so made HotHouse an official nonprofit organization during its two-year hiatus. She'll serve as president, with a "diverse" 14-member board of directors. "Hopefully we'll be able to subsidize more expensive events with foundation and corporate support," she says; to that end she's mounted a fierce fund-raising campaign that includes a membership drive offering premiums for donors with deep pockets. Horberg also plans a number of benefits, like a CD and LP rummage sale on September 20 and a Labor Day Work-a-Thon to ready the new space. (Call 773-235-2334 for more information.)
Of course the biggest crapshoot is whether HotHouse and the Bop Shop can weather the South Loop's imminent gentrification. The other entertainment facilities in the area are considerably more commercial and less ambitious, and they've survived leaner times--something that can't truly be said of either new venue.
"I don't want to sound arrogant or overconfident," says Horberg, "but I think that by developing these multiarts programs, being downtown, and trying to serve both the people who work downtown as well as different community groups, we should become an important cultural center." In other words, her mission is as paradoxical as ever.
Schubas will host the third annual Buck Owens birthday party tribute at 8 PM Tuesday; as with previous installments, the proceeds benefit Chicago's Christmas Is for Kids fund. Chris Mills, Jon Langford, Dolly Varden's Steve Dawson and Diane Christansen, Otis Clay, and Gary Yerkins head a long list of performers who'll cover songs associated with the Bakersfield legend.
The August issue of the British music magazine the Wire includes a long review of a triumvirate of recent attractions at the Empty Bottle. The club's Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music, its weekly Sunday night gig by the Deadly Dragon Sound System, and its virtual house band Frontier are all discussed in the laudatory piece.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Marguerite Horberg photo by Marc PoKempner.