And Now, Direct From New York and LA, the China Club

The China Club is already a fixture on the New York and Los Angeles club scenes, and now the owners are gearing up for their Chicago debut. They say the Chicago China Club could open as early as June 7, though that date could be pushed back as they go about the task of redecorating the space at 311 N. Desplaines, site of the defunct Billy Lee’s entertainment complex.

The China Club’s management aims to occupy a niche apart from competitors such as nearby Shelter and the soon-to-open Ka-Boom! “We’re primarily a music club,” says Russ Brunelli, the Chicago club’s general manager. Brunelli’s most recent venture was a short-lived disaster called the Tough Club, which he managed for Steve Edelson, the former owner of the Bridge and Union, who now resides in Los Angeles. The China Club is being bankrolled by a group of local investors led by the Chicago Dining Authority, which runs Burhop’s, the south Loop restaurant Prairie, and Red Kerr’s, a bar and restaurant on South Clinton. Brunelli would not reveal how much money is going into remodeling the space.

The first China Club opened on New York City’s upper west side six years ago in a relatively intimate space that could nevertheless accommodate about 600 people. The club–conceived by Michael Barrett, a former New York policeman, Danny Fried, a writer, and David Boyd, a former bartender–immediately began attracting well-known musicians like Michael Bolton and Jon Bon Jovi, who hung out there and occasionally performed. The west-coast China Club, which opened two years ago in the heart of Hollywood, also quickly turned into an outpost for famous musicians such as Elton John and Bruce Springsteen. Brunelli knows Chicago isn’t the star-filled city New York and Los Angeles are, but he still hopes to attract the best of the city’s studio musicians as well as the big names who often headquarter in the Windy City while touring the midwest.

Already skeptics in the club business here are saying the city will have trouble supporting yet another large-scale night spot. But an aggressively positive Brunelli claims he isn’t concerned about filling the sprawling 20,000-square-foot club; he’ll just close off parts of it on slow nights. Since the China Club expects to be open seven nights a week, there could be some of those.

It’s Got a Good Beat, and Megafontana Casablanca Can Dance to It

Ka-Boom!, the new club scheduled to open in late May at 747 N. Green in River West, now has a theme song that owners Cal Fortis and Kenny Smith also plan to turn into a music video. Composed by Richard Knight Jr. and Tony Rott, the funky tune features a cappella group Rough, Smooth, and Silk and female vocalist Aurora. The video, scheduled to be shot the first week in June, will also spotlight Ka-Boom! performance artists/dancers Chandelier and Megafontana Casablanca. Fortis says he listened to several versions of the song before he heard one that properly captured what he describes as “the high-energy, upbeat spirit” of Ka-Boom!

Selling Comedy

Bob Hargis is using a band of about 30 young ladies to help market his new comedy club, Chaplin’s, opening May 15 at 2848 N. Broadway (recently the site of Paradome, one of many short-lived nightclubs at that address). Hargis owns three comedy clubs in the Detroit area, and his marketing strategy for his first Chicago club entails sending his crew of women door-to-door to sell books of discount admission coupons. Though a number of comedy clubs distribute free tickets and try to make their nut on liquor revenue, Hargis says he prefers the coupon approach, coupled with the standard two-drink minimum. Hargis’s coupon books also may include discounts for other goods and services to enhance their appeal. Hargis already has lined up Judy Tenuta for some June dates and is working on snaring tart-tongued Pudgy.

Roger Greenfield Presents the $100 Steak

Restaurateur Roger Greenfield strikes again. With the Kinzie Street Bistro and Bar Louie open in River North, Greenfield and partner Ted Kasemir have moved into the Streeterville space at 200 E. Chestnut, erstwhile home of the Levy Restaurants’ Eurasia, to open the Saloon, which the owners have christened “a steak house for the 90s.” Greenfield maintains that a market still exists for red meat, though he believes meat eaters generally want a steak of the highest quality. “You can’t find the prime cuts of meat we’re going to offer in your grocery,” says Greenfield, whose top-of-the-line steak will be a $100 porterhouse for four. The decor boasts a lot of faux finery, including faux steer heads and faux pony skins on the wall. The Saloon should be open around May 16.

Cloud 42 Invests in Degenerate Art

The Cloud 42 theater company is risking a lot of money to present the midwest premiere of Degenerate Art, Tom Jacobson’s play about German expressionist painter Emil Nolde, who had more than 1,000 of his works confiscated by the Nazis because they allegedly undermined the political status quo. Cloud 42 artistic director Patrick Trettenero says the shows $30,000 budget–which includes live music, choreography, and slide projections–is double its previous record expenditure. Small Cloud 42 has joined forces with the marketing powers at the Art Institute of Chicago, which is running an exhibit of “degenerate art” by Nolde and other expressionist artists concurrent with the play; it opens June 23 at the Theatre Building.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Alexander Newberry.