1. A Visit to America’s Bar

By Jack Hayes

The reviews had led me to believe that America’s Bar was a happy, all-American kind of place, a place where, I’d heard, the waitresses dressed like cheerleaders and the atmosphere was akin to a pep rally. Reportedly, the waitresses even did a sort of pom-pom routine at regular intervals in which they were joined by the whole staff, including the foreign-born table clearers and dishwashers. Now, that’s democracy! America’s bar!

According to the radio spots, rock and roll music, the music of my generation, would be king at America’s Bar. As I remember them, the ads even proclaimed somewhat adventurously that the “spirit of Woodstock” would reign supreme. And while that spirit seemed to clash with the late-80s-patriotism theme of the place, I fell for that pitch too. For people my age, Woodstock represents the ultimate shared experience; it was a public celebration of personal freedom. Free association, free love, free speech, and even–by the end–free admission made Woodstock the symbol of a generation of people yearning to breathe free.

Yeah, I could get into a place where the Woodstock spirit reigned.

Or so I thought. I hadn’t figured on Bruce, who stands about six-four with shoulders as wide as a doorway. Bruce greeted me on my first visit. It was an unusual greeting to be sure. As I was about to step across the threshold of America’s Bar, he brought his huge hands down upon my bony shoulders, pressing his thumbs into my collarbone just firmly enough to halt my forward progress.

“How ya doin’ tonight?” Bruce asked, a fluorescent grin beaming from atop his towering frame like the beacon in a lighthouse.

“Good,” I frowned. He shined his smile from my head to my toes a couple times. I felt unclothed.

“There’s just one problem here,” he said. (“Yeah, the big, grinning goon in a pinstripe suit barring my entrance to this restaurant,” I thought.)

“Those gym shoes,” he said, staring at my feet.

Well, they weren’t gym shoes. They were New Balance running shoes–with a few miles on them, admittedly, but running shoes nonetheless. Shoes that, in the American tradition, cost me too much. The type of shoes more than a few Americans wear in pursuing fitness regimens; the kind of shoes, I daresay, that retired Chicago Bear Walter Payton–coowner of America’s Bar–might have put on once or twice in his life. The kind of shoes that, it seems to me, half of all spirited, unself-conscious Americans (including my 62-year-old father, who enjoys nothing more than spending a couple hours and many dollars in a restaurant owned by a has-been athlete) wear in their leisure hours. The other half of course wear gym shoes.

So there’s a dress code at America’s Bar. A dress code of the sort we members of the Woodstock generation scoffed at in high school. A dress code–right there in the middle of Chicago’s most celebrated art district–that would probably exclude many of the city’s most talented and haphazardly shod artists, not to mention people from the projects a few blocks away.

Come to think of it, maybe it was not only me but those free-thinking artistic types and the kids from the projects that the dress code aimed to discourage. Certainly their presence in America’s Bar would have given the place a decidedly urban feel that would contrast markedly with the Schaumburgian-dress-shoes orientation of Payton’s other thriving business enterprises.

Whatever its reason for being, that dress code leaves a lot of other freedom-loving, non-penny-loafer-wearing people like me and I presume Richie Havens out in the cold. I hate to say it, Walter, but, no matter how many free drink coupons your dress-code goon tries to press into my hand as I walk angry and frustrated and belittled away from America’s Bar, ain’t no way I’ll be coming back, at least until they change the politics around there. And I’m pretty sure I can count on Country Joe McDonald to back me up.

2. An Incident in Ukrainian Village

By Renaldo Migaldi

“I been shot!” said the man who had fallen just inside the front door of the nightclub. “Somebody please help me,” he moaned. “I don’t wanna die.”

A buzz flew through the Friday-night crowd that gathered around him. “He says he’s been shot.”

Apparently the man had met trouble on the streets of Ukrainian Village and had stumbled into the nightclub. Even though he lay stretched out on the floor, his eyes were open and he spoke coherently.

“He says he’s been shot,” someone said again.

A young man was already calling 911 on the pay phone in the corner. The club owner dashed from behind the bar with a roll of paper towels.

“Somebody call my wife,” said the man.

“Who’s got a pen?” shouted one of the patrons, and after I tossed him mine he took down the man’s phone number.

The club owner crouched on the floor next to the man, talking in low tones. I couldn’t hear what he said. As he spoke he unrolled a length of paper toweling, wadded it up, and pressed it against the side of the man’s head. The toweling immediately flushed crimson.

Two guys with beers in their hands stood off to one side watching. One of them had been videotaping the band’s performance on a camcorder. The other turned to him and said, “Hey, there you go. There’s a good subject for your video camera.”

“Jesus!” I said. “The guy’s lying there bleeding, says he’s been shot! You think this is some goddamn art project?”

A couple of people had helped the man to a halfway sitting position, so that his head and shoulders were propped against the inside of the front door. Tears streamed down his face. Somebody pushed repeatedly at the door from the outside, trying to force it open. With each push, the man lurched forward.

“Get him away from the door,” somebody yelled. “The paramedics can’t get in!”

They moved the man to one side, and a bunch of laughing young men and women poured through the doorway.

The club owner ran outside and then returned, hollering, “Somebody help me with this guy!” He hoisted the man by one shoulder. Somebody else got the other side, and a big guy got the feet. The three hauled the man out into the cold to a cab that was waiting at the curb.

The club owner pointed excitedly down the street and told the driver, “The hospital is just a couple of blocks that way!”

The cabdriver wanted to know who was going to pay.

The club owner spun around. “Ten dollars? Who’s got ten dollars?”

I fished out a ten and tossed it into the cab. The three men put the injured man in the backseat and were about to shut the door when the first police cars rolled up.

Three policewomen got out. “All right, what’s the trouble?” one of them said.

“This man’s been shot!” said the club owner. “We gotta get him to the hospital!”

“Hold on right there,” said another policewoman to the cabdriver.

The cab stayed put, with its motor idling. The back door hung open, and the man lay sprawled in the backseat, his feet hanging over the pavement. He looked unconscious now.

The club owner said, “Look, he’s bleeding! He needs medical attention!”

The policewoman grabbed the club owner by the sleeve and said, “Listen, who’s the police around here, anyway?”

Someone shut the cab door and quietly told the driver to step on it. The cab sped away. In another moment more police arrived. Curious patrons were pouring out of the club, crowding the sidewalk, all talking at once. The club owner began asking people to go back inside.

One of the newly arrived cops looked irritated at the confusion. “OK,” he said to the club owner, “you’re taking charge here. What happened to the victim?”

The club owner explained that since the cab had appeared before an ambulance, he’d judged it more sensible to use the cab to send the bleeding stranger to the hospital.

The cop nodded. “All right. Good decision.”

The guy who’d taken my pen appeared and returned it along with a business card that had the bleeding man’s phone number scribbled on the back. I figured the commotion was about over, so I went back into the club. My friends and I drank our beers and tried to figure out whether the man had actually been shot or just clubbed with a bottle. It seemed no one in the club, not even those near the front door, had heard any shots.

We expected to see the club owner come back inside, but he didn’t. I went back out and found him still talking with several police, including at least one plainclothesman and a short loud cop who said, “All right, then. We’ll just go on in and search everybody!”

I approached one officer and started telling him what I’d seen, but he ignored me. “The guy gave us this phone number,” I said, offering him the business card. He looked at me blankly and brushed past me into the club.

“Look, pal,” the loud cop said to the club owner as they went inside, “this is the ghetto–we do what we want here.”

I followed them in. The lights had gone up and everyone was quiet. Several police were walking around the room looking at things. The club owner made an announcement. “Please everyone, we’re going to have to say good night and ask you all to leave now, because we’ve had a little disturbance.”

“Disturbance?” said the loud cop. “You get a guy shot in the head, you call that a disturbance?”

“He didn’t get shot in here!” several people shouted.

The big guy who’d helped carry the man to the cab told the loud cop not to talk to the club owner that way. “He’s a nice guy, he was trying to help. You don’t know–”

“I don’t wanna know,” the loud cop snapped.

“We don’t need a bunch of lawyers,” added a plainclothesman.

Some patrons got their coats and made ready to leave. “Thanks for coming, folks,” the loud cop called after them as they went out the door. “This is an up-and-coming neighborhood!” He started pacing back and forth, hitching up his gun belt, sizing up the room, talking out of the side of his mouth. “Yeah, real nice establishment,” he said sarcastically.

Other people were still milling around. The young bartender finally lost her cool and screamed, “Everybody get the fuck out!”

The club owner, frowning, immediately told her to hush and then turned to the customers. “Please, everyone. We have to ask you to leave now.”

“Everybody leave your guns and dope here,” said the loud cop.

Somewhere outside whoever shot the stranger was running around free. But there wasn’t anything else to do, and the owner had asked us all to leave, so we left. On the way out I saw the guy with the camcorder. He nodded at me and said, “It would have been good to have a video record of all this.” Then he turned away.

I patted him on the back and said, “You’re right.”

The next day the club owner told me that after we left his club was searched, and he was arrested and spent the night in jail. “If anyone ever comes into my bar again needing help,” he said, still shaken, “I’m gonna just throw him back out on the street.” Since then he has taken back those words. He also said that the man who had lain bleeding on his floor dropped by the club recently to say thanks, having recovered from the bullet wound that a couple of street thieves put in his face.

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