The New Map of Clubland

Late last month the Fireside Bowl canceled all its pending shows, surprising many in the local music community. But the Fireside’s rebirth as a full-time bowling alley is just one of the big changes afoot in Chicago’s clubland.

Most notably, longtime booker Brian Peterson, who’s still rescheduling Fireside shows and programming the Bottom Lounge, has taken over as in-house promoter for the Logan Square Auditorium at 2539 N. Kedzie. Historically used for weddings, cotillions, quinceaneras, and similar functions, over the past year the hall has been home to occasional concerts by the likes of Low, Jaylib, and Will Oldham–the majority of them promoted by the Empty Bottle. According to owner Saul Osacky, the LSA has a legal capacity of 600, compared to 200 at the Fireside. The venue secured its public place of amusement license in May, and Osacky intends to expand to a full schedule by October.

“We’re probably gonna be doing shows seven nights a week there eventually,” Peterson says. Confirmed bookings so far include the Dillinger Four, the Incredible String Band, and Mouse on Mars.

The next show on the LSA calendar is Rjd2 on September 24, booked by the Bottle, and by then Osacky plans to have corrected the acoustics of the cavernous room and installed a permanent “state-of-the-art” sound system. In the past promoters had to set up and tear down the PA for every gig, which meant that only relatively big events were worth the trouble and expense. The LSA, which also has a liquor license, can host both all-ages shows and 21-and-up events.

Peterson says that the LSA will continue to make room for outside promoters, including the Empty Bottle. The Bottle already has a handful of concerts booked there in October, including the Wrens and Explosions in the Sky, and continues to put holds on future dates. But Bottle owner Bruce Finkelman says he’s looking to open another venue comparable in size to the LSA where he can be the exclusive promoter.

“We’re currently working on finalizing a deal for a new space,” he says. “Right now we’re just working on dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.” Finkelman says the unnamed venue, which he hopes to have up and running by year’s end, would have a “bunch of different options” in terms of capacity and age requirements–that is, it’d be a direct competitor to the LSA. But he adds that the Bottle will “still be actively involved in booking shows at Logan Square Auditorium. Because different shows work better at different venues.”

Though Finkelman clearly needs to be diplomatic until the ink is dry on the deal at the new space, he has reason to be bitter: the Bottle established the auditorium as a viable venue, helping Osacky staff it and set up a bar. But he’s looking elsewhere in part due to concerns about the LSA itself. Though Osacky’s new PA may well improve the auditorium’s terrible sound, the usual post-E2 capacity concerns will remain–the bigger shows booked into the venue can easily draw more than 600 people. The LSA is also in a residential area; if it starts operating on weeknights it might provoke noise and disturbance complaints. And when police or fire marshals shut down a show, an outside promoter like Finkelman can end up holding the bag, even when the source of the trouble–inadequate soundproofing, for instance–is out of his control.

But Osacky insists that the LSA hasn’t had any such problems in the past, and staffers at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association corroborate his claim. “We have always been very conscious of our neighbors,” Osacky says. “We’re very excited at the potential for the venue.”

A Decade of Festering

When the Meter talked to Fireside booker Brian Peterson as recently as August 5, he insisted that despite the introduction of bowling leagues, the Fireside would continue to host bands several nights a week. He said little would be changing, though there would be an upswing in “bowling-friendly shows–more garage and rockabilly” and fewer “big hardcore shows,” most of which he was already booking into the Bottom Lounge instead. So what prompted the abrupt termination of his relationship with the venue less than three weeks later?

In the end, long-simmering conflicts between Peterson and Fireside owner Jim Lapinski over the club’s direction boiled over. Lapinski’s idea of a bowling-friendly show was something like a cover band or a karaoke night–not exactly the sort of fare Peterson’s MP Productions specializes in–and he didn’t want to end up in an ongoing tug-of-war.

“Brian and I, we never really got along very well,” says Lapinski. “And lately it just wasn’t going in the direction that he had led me to believe it was going in. So it was just best to part ways.”

Lapinski began rehabbing the Fireside this spring, after learning that the city’s plans to expand nearby Haas Park had been shelved, making the alley a sensible investment again. “I would’ve done this a long time ago if I’d known where I’d stood,” he says. “But I had no idea for the last five years.” Lapinski, whose father bought the Fireside in 1965, first made repairs to the club’s bathrooms and stage area; after several other alleys in town closed, he began refurbishing the Fireside’s lanes, initially planning to reintroduce bowling alongside the existing music bookings. But the day-to-day difficulties of juggling scheduling, staffing, space, and equipment for both turned out to be more than he wanted to deal with, especially given his souring relationship with Peterson.

“Things had been festering between us for the last ten years, unfortunately,” Peterson admits. “And also I think the more money he sunk into the place the more he realized he couldn’t risk having shows and bowling the way we had.” Fireside crowds hadn’t generally been unruly or destructive, but even on a good night the floor could end up a muck of spilled beer and cigarette butts.

Of the dozens of concerts canceled at the Fireside, several have already been relocated, but there’s no question that a lot of smaller bands–both locals and touring acts–will have a harder time finding somewhere to play in the city now. “Economically, it’s not possible for most clubs to book bands that don’t have a huge draw,” Peterson says, “but the Fireside was able to do that. I’m sure there’ll be a ton of house shows, basement shows, and VFW hall shows to make up for it.”

Lapinski insists that Fireside isn’t turning its back on music. “We’ll still do shows when it fits into the bowling schedule,” he says, adding that he’s already planned a handful for the fall. “It may only be once, twice, or three times a month–who knows? But they’ll be 21 and over from now on.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell.