Editor’s Note: Club Lucky has finally re-emerged at 1931 N. Milwaukee Ave. on June 27, 2007 following years of delay and a failed location in 2001 on Lawrence.
“Best Music and Dance in Town!”
For over two decades, Club 950 Lucky Number established itself as one of the premiere alternative clubs in all of Chicago way before “alternative” became a buzzword in the early 1990s. Named after its address, Club 950 held its own against stiff competition that in those days included Shelter, Ka-Boom! and the China Club. Club 950 attracted its share of trendy types beginning with punk and alternative, and ending with goths and ravers. Club 950 did its best to attract a wide variety of patrons through inventive promotions and club renovations, but met its demise just shy of reaching into the 21st Century.
Club 950 was located just off the corner of the Lincoln, Sheffield and Wrightwood intersection; just up the road from Irish Eyes, Lilly’s and bw-3, and across from Deja Vu. Despite its auto repair-like, brick-encrusted facade that made the Liar’s Club seem decadent and inviting, Club 950 was easy to spot from any direction with its bright red awning, a mural of a 1950s Elvis visible from the Brown and Red Line El trains on one side, and a mural of a Humphrey Bogart-looking Brian Ferry and a tango-dancing couple on the other. What puzzles me, is that these murals seem completely random as you would not hear Elvis songs or old music, the club didn’t have a film noir theme, and there certainly wasn’t any tango dancing. Perhaps these murals were meant to give the outward impression of the randomness inside.
“Funny, I always thought that was Bogart on the wall too. It turns out that it was supposed to be Brian Ferry! One of the daytime regulars was an alcohol-soaked Korean sign painter named Charlie. Ves, the owner, commisioned him to paint the murals. I can only assume that the dancing couple has something to do with, ‘Don’t Stop the Dance.’ It was during this era that Charlie was most prolific. Some folks used to chide Charlie about the ‘nice portrait of Humphrey Bogart.'”
– D.M. (August 14, 2008)
As you entered through the ominous entrance, you encountered a black-painted den of iniquity. Cover ranged from $3 to $5 after 10:00pm To the left of the entrance ran a long wooden bar lit dimly with red fluorescent lights. Opposite the bar were stools and tables, and genie lamps dotted the entire front room. The wall that once separated the bar from the main room was removed to increase space and open up the dance floor, located in the center of the room with its disco ball shining brightly above it. As observed in The Official Chicago Bar Guide (1994), the dance floor was a great place to, “try a new dance with nobody noticing.” To the left of the dance floor was an eclectic variety of easy chairs and couches for those needing a break from the madness. More tables and stools were located on the other side of the room. The walls around the room were covered with male and female torsos protruding from the walls that glowed eerily under the red neon lights amidst the smoke from the fog machine.
In the back of the room is where the DJ booth was located, just in front of the men’s bathroom sans door with its urinals (and perhaps your genitals) basking in clearly visible glory. Next to the DJ booth was a room built in the club’s last days that offered billiards as a replacement for the former pool room adjoining it. The pool room initially had three pool tables and was brightly lit, which put off the nightcrawlers that wandered in there. The room was later converted into a lounge with cocktail tables, couches, easy chairs, dim lighting and candles to make everyone feel more at ease in the darkness. The conversion was so successful, that regulars would come in and head straight to the lounge, bypassing the freak show on the dance floor altogether.
|Photo by Ken Mierzwa
© Copyright 2003
Different nights at Club 950 featured different music, even between the different rooms once the pool room was renovated. Depending on which day of the week it was, one could hear anything, including: new wave, ska, rockabilly, punk, gothic, industrial, reggae, underground, rave, trance, techno, progressive, electronic, pop, and of course, alternative. In fact, Club 950 was playing alternative music way before Q101 bastardized the term. Henry Rollins even played there on December 11, 1981 (see picture opposite, taken by Ken Merzwa, copyright 2003). ”
The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Nitzer Ebb are still favorites,” observed Sweet Home Chicago – the Real City Guide in 1993. Club 950 also flirted with the idea of attracting patrons with more than just music with its
“Deadly Variety” promotion on the first Sunday of every month, featuring poetry, theater, music, film, and videos. In Club 950’s last days, a gothic crowd predominated, done up in: “black leather pants, black leather jackets, black leather-spiked bracelets, black hair, black eyebrows, black lip stick, and tight black latex pants,” according to Willy Laszlo in
Barfly’s Guide to Chicago Drinking Establishments
2000). This was a significant change from the, “crowd goes from beautiful people slumming to greasers,” as noted in
The Official Chicago Bar Guide
in 1994. Perhaps this sheds some light on why Club 950 ultimately subsided into obscurity. Not even $3.50 pitchers of Bud could save this weathered piece of Americana.
However, Club 950 can be remembered as having a rich history. Al Jourgensen was a patron and DJ at the club prior to his days with the band Ministry, Iggy Pop wrote a song about the place, and Depeche Mode once paid a visit following one of their concerts. Club 950 opened on April 1, 1980 by Ken Klaveter, with special effects for the grand opening and music spun by DJs that were Wax Trax employees by day. Club 950 attracted crowds from La Mere Vipere after it burned and O’Banions after it closed in 1983. Klaveter had been a bartender at O’Banions while Nancy Rapchak, Mike and Rosann were also bartending there, and then decided to look for a spot to open.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s and prior to its existence as Club 950, the building housed a hippie juice bar called “Alice’s Revisited,” with offices upstairs of local underground newspaper, “The Seed,” whose back-page classifieds advertised the selling spots of pot dealers. Alice’s regularly featured blues musicians along with local rock acts like Styx who played there every Tuesday night. Howlin’ Wolf even recorded his blues albums “Live and Cookin’ at Alice’s Revisited” and “Chess” there in the early 70s. At the time, the cover charge was $2, and Vietnam vets got in for a buck. In addition, a Chicago Bar Project reader described Alice’s in this way: “I came upon your site, and appreciate what little can still be found of the club’s history. Alice’s was in two adjacent storefronts, 948 and 950. 948, half the length of 950, had the front entrance and the restaurant, 950 the stage, which changed back and forth over the years from near to the back wall, to a long stage against the west wall, and back again. Along with regularly scheduled performances by many blues greats, such as Muddy Waters, Muhal Richard Abrams, Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells, Alice’s creative booking policy led to premier Chicago appearances by soon-to-be-hit acts such as ‘War’, the introduction of ‘Styx’ to the North-side of town in 1972 with a series of Tuesday night shows, (50 cent cover, half-price for servicemen), and the Woody Herman 19 piece big band. Many of the bookings were in affiliation with the fledgling ‘Jam Productions.’ We had no liquor license, true, (our landlord at the time was a church), but we were hardly a coffee house.” This quote is dedicated to the memory of Norm Wagner who took over the management of Alice’s Revisited in 1972 from the original owner, Ray Townley who started the original location of Alice’s as more of a coffee house further south on Lincoln Avenue and whom also wrote for the Chicago publication “Downbeat”. Sadly, Norm is no longer with us as he died of a brain tumor at the age of 54 in 2000.
“I never knew the place since it became 950—but my son, Chris, found you a good place to be. BUT I was a part of the Alice’s years. As a folksinger in Chicago then, I was hired to open a show for Chester Burnett—better known as Howling Wolf.”
– A.T. (December 25, 2005)
Club 950 was a great combination of a laid back atmosphere combined with a funky alternative vibe. Today, 950 regulars now head to places like Crobar, Delilah’s, Betty’s Blue Star Lounge, Empty Bottle, Neo, and Exit. Sadly, with the passing of Club 950, trendy types have one less place to hang out and revel in their tattoos, leather and piercings. Hopefully, Lou Malnati’s with its garish awnings will once again have a cool neighbor where even the strangest of beings can be accepted while they work off their pizza dinner on a crazy little dance floor. Cheers to you, Ken and Norm.
“I found 950 during the final years of its existence when a couple of my DJ friends started working there on Saturday nights. (Carrie Monster and DJ Abe) I was part of the gothicly dark crowd you mentioned in your article. I also frequented the Thursday night ‘Planet Earth with DJ Dave’ I often rode my Motorcycle down to 950 from my apartment near Belmont and Halstead and parked it on the sidewalk with all the other bikes. 950 had a good number of motorcycle types and they always let us park on the wide end of the sidewalk. I spent many, many nights there and when I think back to my heavy club days where I also frequented Neo, Smart Bar, Exit, Crowbar, Berlin, etc… Club 950 was always my favorite. I was sad when it closed. I won’t get into the rumors about the reasons behind the close… but lets just say I thought the rumored reasons were pretty sad… Ahh well… I’ll always have those last two years.”
– C.N. (October 19, 2007)
“I was a regular fixture at the 950 from 1979 to 1988. It was one of the few places where you could count on dancing to a lot of Joy Division and later New Order which gave us this great, free feeling. The best memory is of a Psychic TV concert and we don’t regret the permanent hearing loss one bit because we knew and still know that we were attending one of the great moments in alt-music history.”
– C.H. (March 7, 2006)
“Club 950 was one of those places we went after seeing bands at other clubs, from about 1979 to 1982. At first it was just the relatively narrow main bar area, the big dance floor came later. Max Grey was one of the bartenders, and I think he was part-time manager for a little while. I’m told that Max passed on a few years ago. Once I went in early, and all the lights were on, there were a bunch of old guys playing pool and drinking beer. At 9:00 pm the lights went down, the old guys left, the music came on, and a different sort of crowd began to filter in. One of the attractions of Club 950 was that Camacho’s was next door, usually late at night there would be a few people in black leather sitting there eating burritos or talking on the pay phone by the door; then they’d head back over to Club 950.”
– K.M. (November 21, 2003)
“I was a regular at 950 from about 1996-1990, and just looked it up on Google to see what kind of coverage it had on the web. I’m not sure what kind of anecdotes you are looking for, but I was there about 3X a week and knew the club manager, Noe, and a lot of the regular customers. When I first started going, Joe Bryl of Funky Buddha Lounge was the Sunday DJ, playing primarily rock music. I was a go-go dancer at one of his Sunday events, I think it was a screening of a 60s psychedelic movie. My best friend and I won a prize there for best costume one Halloween, we were ‘The Dead Housewives From Downer’s Grove.’ Come to think of it, my husband and I had our wedding reception there (the bouncer I used to date was off that day, hehe). It was too crowded for me there on Fridays and Saturdays, I was mostly there on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I visited other clubs, but spent most of my time at 950 because it was a congenial group of misfits, some drinks, and plenty of good music. Best were the La Mere Vipere nights Noe did occasionally (he DJd on Tuesdays, I think).”
– D.T. (September 13, 2003)
“I met my wife at 950, in 94. I have a lot of good stories I could tell, like the time Bill and me were drinking heavy and Paul brought up some pink rabbits from the basement. Bill and me started to soak the rabbit with Rumplemintz, and made a line going down the bar, and started it on fire. The blue flame started to go across the bar with Vess sitting there watching the flame traveling to the rabbit. The only thing Vess said was ‘I’m insured.’ We all laughed, as Paul threw the rabbit in the sink. I still have a pink rabbit in my leather to this day. You must know Paul and maybe Bill and me. We always sat with Vess in the front. Other people like Dennis, Greg, Linda, Jenny, Abe, Rich, Wilbur, and so on. I really miss the place, like an empty space in my heart. 950 WAS NOT A BAR, IT WAS A WAY OF LIFE…”
– L.S. (February 24, 2003)
“I remember Club 950 vividly. From mid-1990 to late 1992 it was THE club of choice for me and I continued to visit it until I left the Chicago area for the Orlando area in 1997. Club 950 will always hold fond memories because it was back in those days that I ‘found; myself through the music there and what the music represented. 1991 and 1992 were heady days for me; I thought I had found my soul mate and the two of us spent many nights there gazing into each others’ eyes while listening to the music of Jesus and Mary Chain, Depeche Mode, EMF, etc. Happily for me, I still listen to the music but found that my soul mate was in fact just some guy with a penchant for using people! If the owners of Club 950 want to open a location in Orlando, let me know… I’ll be happy to run it!”
– L.A.S. (June 2007)
“Before it was the 950 — maybe 1977 or so — it was called the Otok Island Lounge and i wrote a story about it and a couple of other bars for the Chicago Daily News. About all I remember about the place is that ‘Otok’ means ‘island’ in Croatian and the wall behind the bar was completely covered with pine cones.”
– W.N. (June 19, 2009)
The 2001 look that never caught on: