Once a factory set amongst meat packing plants, the Elbo Room has become well known in Chicago for being a unique live music venue, as it takes its name from its elbow-like shape, being at the corner of George, Lakewood and Lincoln (the latter runs diagonally), and across from Vida Lounge, which used to be the rock club Thurston’s until the building was torn down and converted into condos in addition to the Argentinian restaurant & bar. The Elbo Club is one of the longest continuously rock clubs running.
Step through the plate glass door and walk up a few steps into the bar, and you’ll find a most satisfying loungey room. Complete with long, comfortable maroon-leathered couches and funky lamps, the Elbo’s lounge is a friendly, laid-back place. Grab a cocktail at the bar across the room – which is not hard to find given the neon “Elbo Room” signs and full-size beer coolers. This room once served as a restaurant, but was converted into a room for private parties. Either hang out upstairs, maybe play some Galaga (table-top version, oh yeah…), or pay the cover at the door, get your hand stamped, and descend down the metal staircase, bedecked with silver-sequined drapes, into the depths below to check out the music.
Downstairs at the Elbo is a pretty cool place to see bands. One may feel nostalgic for high school parties in the basement. Be forewarned: just like your parents’ basement, the place fills up quickly if there’s a popular band playing – causing the name “Elbo Room” to become an oxymoron. Otherwise, you may have to crane your neck to see the band due to the low ceilings and short stage. I recommend grabbing a seat along one of the vinyl couches that wrap around the red-lit, side wall. Intriguingly enough, the couches themselves are located directly below the sidewalks on the outside. If you sit there, be prepared to feel the bass – the room’s acoustics leave a little something to be desired. Lounge lizards will appreciate the darkly lit interior, red velvet drapes and stuffed fish behind the back bar. The bands themselves play across from the “joint” of the room, and across from the bar.
The Elbo Room typically books up-and-coming alternative, rock, ska, funk, and reggae bands. The cover charge runs $7-$10. In addition, the hip Chicago acid jazz scene got it’s start at the Elbo and can still “shake dat ass” with Sumo every Sunday night. Acid jazz pioneers, Liquid Soul, became popular at the Elbo Room, but started to attract a following too big for the room. They moved on to the Double Door for awhile, and now tour internationally.
All in all, Nick Henricks and David Friedman have created a Chicago live music legend once they opened the place back in September 1989 after scavenging through garage sales for retro furniture for the lounge, and outfitting the basement into a proper club. My advice, get a cheap steak at Las Tablas half a block north on Lincoln and then drop by the Elbo around 10:00 p.m. to catch the first band. If you’re hungry afterwards, stop by Muskie’s across the street for some grease or the Golden Apple up further north on Lincoln (open 24 hours). If you like Elbo Room, you might also like Beat Kitchen, Wise Fools Pub and Silvie’s. For more information on the Elbo and for a list of upcoming shows, check out the Elbo Room website. Rock on, brother.