Chicago Reader issue cover of December 9, 2021 (Vol. 51, No. 5): The Drinks Issue. Cover story by Leor Galil about Neo, Windy City Times special quarterly insert
Credit: Photo illustration by Kirk Williamson / Photo credits: GlitterGuts Photography, Simin Koernig, and Kirk Williamson

Lincoln Park nightclub Neo closed for good in the middle of the summer six years ago. So why write about it now? Most, if not all, of the sources I reached out to for this week’s cover story asked some version of this question. There’s no obvious hook for such a story to exist now. This week’s issue doesn’t fall on an anniversary of the nightclub’s debut or final days, and there’s no big event commemorating Neo right now either. The answers I gave were usually complicated and long-winded, which partly explains why this story stretches past the word count I’d originally set for myself. But to put it bluntly: I see Neo’s influence everywhere. 

One of the many reasons I love working at the Reader is that I’m afforded the space to dig into the city’s subterranean cultures and connect them to the present. Music journalism can sometimes feel like a matter of keeping up with the Joneses. Am I writing about the “right” artist, or trend, or album? I love that I often can ignore such matters at a regional alternative publication. I don’t need to let what’s hot or trending dictate the terms of my work. I get to write about what I think is important to this city and beyond, and I argue that in every paragraph-long album review or 6,600-word feature. Sure, running a story on Neo now is unconventional, but so was Neo. 

Neo: where misfits fit in

In summer 1979, Suzanne Shelton hatched a dream to open a punk dance club. She had two priorities: it had to play lots of new wave, and it needed clean bathrooms. Shelton had been DJing at a failing Lincoln Park disco called Hoots, but she spent all her free nights at O’Banion’s, a run-down gay…