Lounge Axed

Good rock clubs die every month, but Chicago's finest was better than any of them.

Topics: Chicago,

Saturday night saw the last concert at Lounge Ax, a sooty firetrap that was, by far, Chicago’s best and most famous rock club. For 12 years it hosted just about every indie act of consequence, bands like Tortoise, Pavement, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Wilco and any number of local three-chord wonders who played, pasted their stickers to the bathroom wall and were never heard again.

Over the last two weeks, Lounge Ax scheduled a series of shows that crammed the club every night, culminating with a reunion of the defunct lounge band the Coctails on Saturday. I attended several nights, and each was rife with what regulars call Lounge Ax moments. A guy passed out from heat exhaustion and had to be dragged outside by his friends. The roof over the stage developed a leak. Fans waited for hours in lines that stretched into the alley half a block away.

Still, most of the people who got in were in a mood to reminisce. One young woman remembered how she’d conned her way into a label party at age 17 by pretending to be a magician’s assistant. Someone else recalled how he’d thrown up on his wife’s shoes during a Nashville Pussy show. Then there was the tattoo artist from Madison who’d never been to Lounge Ax until closing night. Meanwhile, a small throng waiting outside in the cold was coveting his spot. “I just thought I’d come down and check it out,” he said.

You Might Also Like

Rock fans loved Lounge Ax, but to an outsider, it’s hard to explain precisely why. The sight lines were terrible, there was no air and it was nearly impossible to find a place to sit. A lot of local musicians hung out there, which sometimes made it seem annoyingly clubby. As a friend of mine put it, “Whenever I come here, it’s like I’m at someone else’s office party.”

When it came to actually seeing a show, however, the club permitted no privilege. Last Tuesday night’s bill featured the Tucson Americana outfit Calexico. As they began their set, Julia Adams, the club’s co-owner with Sue Miller, sat on a stool in the back of the bar and surveyed the great lake of bobbing heads in front of her. “This is like my favorite band in the whole world,” she said, “but there’s no way I’m going up there. It’s too crowded.”

Lounge Ax’s closing is a familiar Chicago story these days. Neighborhood bars, once the mainstay of the city’s social life, have been shuttered by the hundreds in the last five years, victims of a booming real-estate market and a particularly draconian Liquor Commission.

Beginning in 1996, when a new condo-owning neighbor began complaining about noise, Lounge Ax struggled with the city’s bureaucracy. It never fully recovered from legal fees, incessant ticketing and Kafkaesque days in court. Other clubs in hipper neighborhoods began to draw the top bookings, and Lounge Ax began its twilight.

When a 26-year-old mortgage banker bought the building in December and told the club it had six weeks to live, everyone was shocked, but no one was really surprised. Chicago, like so many American cities, is quickly gentrifying, and a club like Lounge Ax doesn’t always fit into the urban scheme.

Lounge Ax went out with an excellent party, nearly without sentiment. Occasionally, a kind of muted sorrow oozed up through the floor. Last Sunday night, before breaking into an inevitable round of Johnny Cash covers, local punk hero Jon Langford, head of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers, paused and put his head in his hands. “Oh, no,” he said with a thin coat of irony. “They’re closing the Lounge Ax. Now where are we going to go?”

Neal Pollack is the author of the literary satire "The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature," among other works of fiction and nonfiction. "His latest book, a novel called "Repeat," will be published by Amazon's Lake Union Press on March 24.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>