Metro green room with mural by Stacey Marquardt
Metro green room with mural by Stacey Marquardt Credit: Andrea Bauer

With Artists like the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana gaining prefame street cred on its stage, Metro stands as one of Chicago’s venerable institutions of rock—its green room holding the stuff of legends. And lucky for me, publicist Jenny Lizak was willing to take me on a tour behind the scenes of the venue’s history.

While living in New York City in the late 70s, Metro owner Joe Shanahan became inspired by the convergence of visual artists with DJs and bands in the city’s club scene. Wanting to create a similar community in his hometown, he started throwing parties at his loft apartment upon his return to Chicago. Once the parties wore out their welcome with the landlord and neighbors, Shanahan relocated to the fourth floor of what was then known as Cabaret Metro. (Built in 1927, the building originally housed a Swedish community center.) Shortly after expanding to the first floor, he gave the stage to a fledgling rock band whose tour date had fallen through. On July 25, 1982, patrons paid five bucks to see REM. “At the end of the night [Shanahan] had enough money to order a pizza for the staff, and they called that a success,” Lizak says.

Metro’s green room has since been redesigned, but its history still plasters the walls. Stacey Marquardt, Metro’s director of promotions and sponsorship, created a mural showcasing decades of the venue’s silk-screen posters. The room’s structural design was chosen from a sponsored competition between local interior-design students. Three small rooms grant bands private space, while an open common area fosters community among musicians. “We want to encourage interaction and conversation and build that community amongst Chicago bands,” Lizak says.

The most notable legend of Metro’s green room goes something like this: It was a grunge-y 90s night, and Courtney Love flew into town. Shanahan knew her through a mutual friend, so he put her on the show’s guest list. Afterward, he invited her backstage to meet the band and introduce her to the front man, Kurt Cobain. “From what we understand, after that night they never parted,” Lizak says.