Well, they're movin' on...out?
The closing of Buddy Guy's Legends marks the end of an era for a once-thriving black entertainment district. Fortunately, many of the recently displaced South Side clubs are mounting a second act.
Buddy Guy’s Legends
754 S Wabash Ave; 312-427-1190
Buddy Guy opened Legends in 1989 after leaving a partnership with L.C. Thurman at the old Checkerboard Lounge. Legends has been a more commercial blues type of place, one that attracted tourists after Blues Fest and from nearby hotels. Guy’s brought in stars like Junior Wells, the Rolling Stones and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
What happened Columbia College, which has had plans to build a student center since acquiring the land in 1999, will finally terminate the club’s lease at the end of May.
Relocated? Guy has plans to relocate, and has looked in the Maxwell Street and South Loop area, including the old George Diamond Steakhouse before it burned down.
Old versus new digs The space is cavernous like a chain sports bar, with lots of neon and autographed photos. We’re hoping a new space will mean a bit more grit.
1710 S Michigan Ave
Inspired by its namesake club in Harlem, the Cotton Club opened in Chicago in 1986. It drew local jazz acts, was a favorite stop of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and launched the careers of R. Kelly and Bernie Mac, who performed at the club’s open-mike night. It was a popular stepping dance spot in the black community.
What happened A changing landscape resulting from an increase in residential development and the closing of other area clubs, such as Chicrick House and E2, forced the club to call it quits on January 31, 2006.
Old versus new digs There’s no new space, but the 50th Yard Line (69 E 75th St; 773-846-0005)—though it has a sports-bar vibe—features stepping, as does the more posh Celebrity Lounge (2020 E. 83rd St; 773-375-1348).
67 E Cermak Rd, 312-791-9050
Velvet Lounge opened in 1982 at 2128½ South Indiana Avenue (left), and became a center of improv jazz and ground zero for the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. The man behind the music has been veteran tenor sax player, and club owner, Fred Anderson.
What happened Condos. The original lounge officially closed its doors on April 8, 2006.
Relocated? With donations almost entirely from friends, fans and customers to the tune of $160,000, Anderson was able to lease a new space around the corner, which opened July 28, 2006.
Old versus new digs The old club was in a 100-year-old building and had a homey raggedness about it. The new one-room space is clean and brightly colored (Anderson picked a red floor like the original Velvet once had), and the acoustics are intense. It’s the same employees and musicians, as well as items like the two chandeliers, musician photos, a Charlie Parker painting, Budweiser horse napkin holder, Schlitz sconces and the tables and chairs. The dressing room art is Maxwell Street circa 1980, and Anderson still mans the door. There’s no smoking, which has miffed some older patrons. But with time and a fair chance, it should grow into itself.
5201 S Harper Ct, 773-684-1472
Buddy Guy and L.C. Thurman opened the Checkerboard Lounge in 1972 at 423 East 43rd Street. It had a cramped vintage-funk ambience, and greats such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Milton graced its stage. The Black Lone Ranger would often stop in for a drink. Thurman became main proprietor when Guy left to open Legends.
What happened The city condemned the building, which still sits vacant.
Relocated? Thurman reopened in the new Hyde Park space on November 16, 2006.
Old versus new digs Except for Thurman, there aren’t many ghosts leftover from the old spot, and the new space is much slicker. As for performers, Thurman says “most of the guys we had over on 43rd are dead,” but blues old-timer Bobby Rush has brought the club some attention. University of Chicago students have started to roll in, too, thanks to a student discount on Mondays. Thurman says he plans on giving Buddy Guy a ring. “I’m gonna try to get him to come back over here with me.”
For upcoming Buddy Guy performances at Legends, and for information on shows at Velvet Lounge.