What’s Happening With the Cultural Center?

Remember Chicago’s landmark Cultural Center? When last heard of, that behemoth of a building at the comer of Randolph and Michigan was being shunned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, which said “Thanks, but no thanks” when given the opportunity to take the structure off the hands of Mayor Richard Daley and thereby relieve him of the burden of having to come up with a feasible use for the building when the books go south to the new Harold Washington library. The search for that use is now under the direction of Cultural Affairs commissioner Lois “I Don’t Know Anything About Art” Weisberg, and apparently she and her crew of Cultural Affairs staffers aren’t terribly far along in the process.

To help pass the time, perhaps, until the next mayoral election, Weisberg decided to conduct focus groups to gather opinions about what to do with the building. That research is now concluded, and a summary of the findings is circulating. But don’t expect the report (if you can find a copy) to propose a treasure trove of creative answers. Apparently the focus groups told Weisberg she should pretty much carry on with what she’s doing now in the way of programming at the Cultural Center. Of course once the library moves out, Weisberg would have to do a whole lot more of what she’s doing given the added space that would be available. Sources in the Department of Cultural Affairs, in fact, say it would take about four times the current level of programming to keep the building well utilized once the library has moved to its new quarters. And that would mean a whole lot more money would need to come from the city or somewhere to keep the Cultural Center operating. The notion of bankrolling such a cultural facility may not fly with the mayor, who already has one minion looking at a proposal to build a $500-million performing arts center, and another trying to come up with a plan for the Chicago Theatre. In any case, sources say Weisberg and company are continuing to look at the problem of what to do with the Cultural Center–consulting with consultants and such. That’s the way the game is played these days in the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Lincoln and Diversey the Next Hot Spot?

Michael Morton, son of restaurateur Arnie, is getting into the nightclub business, building a club at 1248 W. George near the intersection of Lincoln and Diversey. With Cabaret Metro owner Joe Shanahan said to be working on a bar-restaurant on Lincoln just south of Diversey, this area is expected to be a hot nightlife center in the not-too-distant future. “A lot of people are unknowledgeable about this location right now,” says Morton, “but in a year or two, I think it’s going to be the new hot spot, like River North was a long time ago.” Morton’s 5,000-square-foot club, whose working name is “Cooler,” is being carved out of a former meat-packing house. The lower level, a former meat cooler, will have something of an industrial feeling, while the upstairs will be plusher, Morton says. There will be a small dance floor and a limited light menu. Morton expects to open sometime in September.

Return of the Rampaging Restaurateur of River North

Roger Greenfield, the restaurateur who brought the Dixie Bar & Grill, Cucina Cucina!, and the Coyote Grill to River North and then lost them all, is back in the area in a somewhat modified capacity. Eschewing the management end of the restaurant business, Greenfield has returned to what he thinks is his strong suit–concepts and design. His handiwork is visible in the newly opened Kinzie Street at 400 N. Wells, which Greenfield calls a “Chicago bistro with French overtones.” Translation: “meat and potatoes with style,” Greenfield says. It will be “fun and inexpensive.” Lunch entrees will top out at $11.95, dinner at $17.95. Though the French banquette seating, the terra-cotta and stucco walls, and the cracked charcoal-gray marble floors are Greenfield’s idea, the owner and operator at Kinzie Street is Ted Kasemir, former general manager of Morton’s in north-suburban Highland Park. Greenfield hopes he’s still in touch with what people want out of a restaurant. So, no doubt, does Kasemir.

Where the Weirdos Are

Discerning weirdos no longer need feel dislocated. Cyril Landise, Russ Grant, and Jean MoJo have moved their Northside Cafe (formerly at 939 W. Webster) to 1635 N. Damen; they’ll open “the new hangout for the discerning weirdo” on Saturday. The owners say they moved to the new location because Wicker Park is an urban frontier populated by the kind of colorful people they want in their cafe. The new Northside is not short on diversions; it will offer live music, pool tables, and a clay boccie court outdoors.

What’s New at Next

While Northlight Theatre scrambles for a new home next season, Evanston’s Next Theatre Company is adding a second performance space in its base at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. The new 40-seat, three-quarter-thrust stage will house the Next Lab, a non-Equity program begun last February to supplement Next’s main-stage productions and support development of new theater artists. Next Lab’s first production in the new space will be Jeff Godber’s Bouncers, about four doormen working in sleazy London nightclubs. Next artistic associate Dexter Bullard directs Bouncers, opening July 12.

Waiting for Siskbert

Life isn’t easy when you’re a film critic in Chicago. Even if you’re not Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert, the men to whom all America turns for a thumbs-up or -down on the movies. At press screenings, other working critics headquartered in Chicago must often endure delays, sometimes lengthy ones, to accommodate Siskel’s and Ebert’s terribly complicated schedules. Last week, for example, at least one critic gave up and left a screening of Robocop 2 almost 30 minutes after it was supposed to begin when word arrived that the TV twosome were running late doing Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. “Siskel and Ebert are almost habitually late,” noted one film publicist, and distributors are loath to start screenings without them. But another publicist familiar with the screening process claims the other critics should quit their bellyaching and consider themselves fortunate even to be at some of these screenings. “In many instances, distributors set up [extra-early] screenings for Siskel and Ebert,” says the publicist, “and then ask us to invite the other key critics.” Such was not the case with the Robocop 2 screening, however; that incident occurred just days before the film opened.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.