Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Haunted Chicago Bar Closes Down to Revamp

By Hal Conick

Februray 27, 2008

A couple stepped into Chicago’s Red Lion Pub on Lincoln Avenue mid day on a Wednesday afternoon. A portly fellow sitting at the bar reading a book told them to grab a seat anywhere they please.

“Do you work here? Sometimes it’s really hard to tell,” says the woman. He did not; instead, he was just there as a regular who was friendly with not only the customers, but bartenders and co-owners Joseph Heinin and Colin Cordwell.

The couple was not there for the beer, scotch, or the shepherd’s pie, but to take one last look before they had to say goodbye to the pub.

Unfortunately for fans of the English style bar, the owners have shut the Red Lion’s doors for about six months, starting February 24, in order for it to be torn down and built back up.

“I have such good memories of this place. There were definitely some good nights I don’t remember here.” The couple took one last look around before they stepped back outside.

But up until recently, no one knew when the bar would be closing its doors. Not even Heinin and Cordwell.

“That’s the question I’d like to have answered,” Heinin said in a late January interview. “I guess it’s all up to when City Hall gives us the word that we can start construction. It depends on when we get the permits. No one knows yet.”

The co-owners finally found out that they’d be able to start construction, and quickly closed their doors starting late February. In place of the sign outside that said they would soon be closing, it now says “Closed as of 2/24- see you in six months”.

In closing the Red Lion, Chicago loses what is considered its scariest bar. It’s known for being one of the more haunted places in Illinois, with stories of the ladies room door being held shut for 20 minutes at a time when occupied, or the scent of lavender surfacing from a ghost who didn’t know how much perfume to put on.

Many patrons have wondered what the need is to close down this historical bar, but it’s painfully obvious on a quick walk around the Red Lion. The floors are in awful shape, sinking in at various locations. They badly need to be redone, but the announcement still came as a shock to the regulars. Heinin doesn’t speak pleasantly about the current state of the pub, describing the building, built in 1880, as “decrepit”.

Heinin is extremely open in talking about the state of the bar’s construction. Red Lion’s friendly atmosphere is one thing that sets it apart from any bar on Lincoln Avenue. The usual 21-24 year old frat-like crowd is replaced by a crowd of older men and women watching anything from the History Channel to the Three Stooges on the television above the bar.

Ryan Connery, a senior at DePaul University and regular customer at the Red Lion, is worried the Red Lion might lose something in the renovation.

“What I’m afraid of is it’s going to lose its charm,” says Connery. “It had a different feel from any other bar I’ve been to in the city- it was really comfortable. Plus the place had history behind it, and in my opinion it was one of the only good bars in the area.”

“We’re going to try to reproduce the interior as much as possible,” says Heinin. “But a lot of the crooked angles of the current set up are going to be gone, which we can’t help.”

As for the Red Lion’s ghosts, Heinin says “I’ve heard from people that in these situations, half the time the ghosts stay. The other half, they choose to leave. It remains to be seen if they’ll stay or go here.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marc Smith Keeps Slam Alive in Chicago

By Hal Conick

February 20, 2008

“Where the hell have you guys been? We’ve been here for the last 21 years you know!”

Marc Kelly Smith looks across the sea of people who have filled the Green Mill for his weekly Uptown Poetry Slam. There are more new faces than usual this week, but Smith doesn’t seem to miss a beat. Right from the start, he has the crowd laughing and yelling along with him, much like he has been doing for over 20 years.

“If you happen to like something, cheer loudly,” says Smith as the crowd lets out a roar. “You cheer like Elvis is here. You cheer like Elvis is really dead!”

Smith then continued to explain the rest of the usual crowd noises to the younger than usual crowd; if you don’t like something, he says to snap your fingers. If you really don’t like something, you stomp your feet. And for the ladies, there’s the “feminist hiss” as Smith called it. The experienced members of the audience demonstrated each action as Smith explained.

Amazingly, Smith kept the same level of high energy the entire night, whether he be performing one of his original poems or stage or moving through the crowd. Throughout the night, he perused the entire length of one of the world’s oldest jazz clubs only to make sure everyone was having a good time.

It’s no mistake this many people have come to see the show that Smith puts on every Sunday. The word of Smith’s Slam poetry gospel has spread since he first created it in 1985, and Slam has gone everywhere in pop culture from hip-hop to comedy to the movies.

Smith’s art has also spanned across the world, as it did Sunday; from Chicago to Ohio to Scotland. Smith called upon his Scottish friend Simon throughout the night, who divulged during his first poem that he recently started his own Slam poetry night in Scotland.

One by one, open mic performers came to the stage, each bringing a different breed of poem. Vijay Pendakur, Assistant Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at DePaul University, has been writing his own Slam poetry for over 10 years.

“Marc started something beautiful that spread like wildfire across this country,” says Pendakur. “Slam is so popular because of what we have become as a country- there’s a lot of competition in both. That might make some people shy away, but it’s a fun competition.”

Fawzia Mirza, a local Chicago actor, has visited the Uptown Poetry Slam six times in the 10 years she has lived in the city, but she has yet to get up on stage.

“I haven’t yet, but I’d like to,” says Mirza. “As an actor, performance is what you do. In slam, there’s still a formula, but there’s a lot of room for whatever happens to come out. It’s the heart of expression.”

The expression Mirza speaks shines through in nearly every performer who jumps on the stage of the Green Mill Sunday night, but Smith doesn’t seem to get big headed about his creation. Marc Smith leads a final call and response with the crowd reminding them that he’s no big deal.

“Thank you for coming out, I’m Marc Smith…”, to which the crowd responds loudly with “So what!”