Does Chicago Need a Kinder, Gentler Nightclub?

Millie’s, the new club at 1163 W. Division, got off to a rough start last Friday when police closed down the grand opening party because of a problem with the club’s liquor license. Early this week Millie’s owner, Kelly Holme, said she was trying to get the problem resolved so the club could open this weekend. When the shutdown occurred, Holme quickly found out how competitive the city’s nightclub business can be. Representatives from the Bridge, which is directly across the river (and no stranger itself to liquor-license snafus), were standing outside Millie’s offering free drink tickets to Holme’s departing guests.

Holme and her silent financial partner, friend Farrell Boucher, have spent about $200,000 on Millie’s, an “evening club” inspired by Nell’s in New York. “It’s not high-tech, and it’s not a dungeon,” explains Holme, “it’s more like a living room.” Decorated with couches, stuffed chairs, and an antique bar, the 40,000-square-foot space (much larger than Nell’s) is meant to provide a relaxing haven for the over-30 set. It also has an outdoor deck and 36 boat slips for those who prefer to arrive by water.

Competitors and observers don’t offer much hope for Millie’s long-term survival. Neither Holme nor Boucher is well established on the club scene, and without a following it’s difficult to fill a giant space in the crucial early days. “The drawing power just isn’t there,” said one source. As it now stands, Holme’s concept also may be unrealistic. She is looking for a crowd that wants to stop by after work to drink and listen to live jazz, blues, or cabaret music, but she may quickly discover that not many clubgoers are out and about so early. Millie’s will offer dance music later in the evening.

Elsewhere on the club scene, the China Club appears to be off to a good start–good enough, even, to be helping Shelter, its neighbor down the street. Says one impartial source: “Crowds are leaving China Club at 1 AM or so and heading over to Shelter.” And Steve Edelson, who moved to LA after selling the Bridge and Union earlier this year, has brought Union back and reopened it under old management. But don’t worry, girls. Though Edelson intends to maintain a presence in Chicago, he has no plans to return here permanently.

Lynda Barry Takes the Rap

The damage is done, but cartoonist Lynda Barry last week took responsibility for it in letters to Newsweek and the New York Times. Barry profiles in both publications recently said The Good Times Are Killing Me was a “staged reading” in Chicago, provoking a minor uproar among local theater people. Barry’s letter to the Times said in part: “I made an idiotic mistake when I referred to the Chicago production . . . as a ‘staged reading.’ I’m new to theater and misunderstood what staged reading meant. The City Lit production was a full, gorgeous and lively one which enjoyed a long life and won six Jefferson awards. I owe the director, cast and crew of that production great thanks for their hard work and talent and an apology for my error. I am a major bonehead.” Barry also sent letters of apology to City Lit and all the cast and crew of the Chicago production. Last week Chicago actress Glenda Starr Kelley wrote an open letter to the Chicago theater community lamenting the misrepresentation of City Lit’s Good Times and reflecting on her own pleasant memories of the production, in which she played the lead’s best friend, Bonna. Kelley said Barry “graciously” acknowledged her work in the production in many public comments while the show was running.

Hot Time at the New Shubert

The New York-based Nederlander Organization is known for being tight with a buck, so it wasn’t surprising that the air-conditioning was off at the long-shuttered Shubert Theatre last week. Nederlander executives and Mayor Richard Daley appeared on a hot stage to announce that the Nederlanders had bought the Shubert building and lease for an undisclosed amount from their archcompetitors, the Shubert Organization.

The mayor, in an embarrassing display of his ineptitude as a public speaker, fumbled his way through a thank-you to the Nederlanders for lighting up the Shubert once again. The question, everyone wanted answered was why the Shuberts had given up on the place. Nederlander chairman James Nederlander repeatedly said he didn’t know, but Shubert executives have stated on more than one occasion that they couldn’t make a profit bringing shows to the 2,200-seat theater. After a road production of the musical Dreamgirls lost a bundle and closed prematurely in 1984, the Shubert Organization ceased booking much of note there.

The Nederlanders plan to bring in a mix of straight plays and musicals and hope to limit potential losses by booking all but the biggest musicals for no more than three weeks. The first production coming into the Shubert is Tru, a one-man show about Truman Capote starring Robert Morse. It opens November 5; the Nederlanders did not announce ticket prices.

Well Done, Weisberg

Though Cultural Affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg hasn’t solved all this city’s cultural woes, she can pat herself on the back for the success of Gallery 37, the arts-education project that employed local students on the Loop’s infamous vacant lot. The gallery received both local and national media attention. Students were paid a weekly salary while they were trained in disciplines such as lithography, drawing, painting, and ceramics. The art made by the students, which was sold at a store on the premises and in Marshall Field’s across the street, generated income of $15,517, which will be channeled into the school system for arts-education purposes. Weisberg hopes to revive the gallery next summer in the same location if it is available.

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