Fish Head, 16 W. Ontario: As club openings go, it was more of a mixed crowd than usual. Besides Candice, who is an architect, and Dawn, who does makeup, and Scottie from Jam, who always wears his hat backwards, and BJ, who is back from New York to work at China Club, and Larry, who left China Club to work at a club that hasn't opened yet, and a woman in white heels who looked like Charo, there were about 80 fish, though the fish kept to themselves.
The fish live inside the bar top, which doubles as an aquarium. Ira Sapir, glass blower and former futures trader, opened the club with aquarium in 1986 and called it Outtakes, after an exhibit of photos from Nicaragua. Now Sapir has new partners, a new name, new decor. Some of the old fish are still there. Old or new, we decided, the fish were the dreariest creatures in the place.
They circled around each other in pale green water that looked like the lighting inside Edwardo's pizzeria in Printer's Row, which, we've decided, is the center of nothing. How can the fish live with themselves? They don't reflect. They don't converse. They don't even go out! They look like they listen to the positive harmonies of new-age music all day long--"At Last the Wind" or "And the Stars Go With You" or "Autumn in New England." No wonder some of them have this look in their eyes like they're going to have a nervous breakdown.
We liked Ray Paseka's fish better. Ray is a nightclub artist who grew up in Palos Hills watching Lost in Space on TV. Ray did Zeus on the ceiling of Excalibur, ruins for Esoteria, steel bars for Exit, Rembrandts for La Strada, and a Lichtenstein for Ka-Boom! Ray showed us his creations for Fish Head--a dolphin bas-relief, a mounted trophy fish made out of heating vents and fence material. He also did exotic masks for the Tiki Room to make the dancing feel primal. "I'm not myself tonight," Ray said, sitting at the fish bar, exhausted. "The backlit jungle almost did me in." We looked down at the fish and looked back up at Ray, who was also wearing a hat backward, and we said thank God for evolution.
Later we told a friend that the club was nice but the fish were vapid and thus anxiety provoking. "No, you're wrong," the friend said. "You should see Pam's goldfish, though you can't because she moved with it to San Francisco. It sleeps in a little house. Pam's friends love that fish. Maybe you need a new perspective on fish. Rent The Little Mermaid." We did and agreed that Flounder is exceptional--he yells at a shark, he weeps at love thwarted, he exhausts himself pulling Ariel the mermaid across the sea so she can be with Eric. But frankly, the whole movie is about how the mermaid wants to be out of the water riding in wagons with Scandinavian Eric and combing her hair with a fork. So we haven't changed our minds about fish.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tom Bachtell.