Also known as Linda’s Lounge, Linda’s Place is the best blues (and soul) joint in Chicago you’ve never heard of. While Kingston Mines, B.L.U.E.S. and Blue Chicago all pack ’em in like sardines on the weekends, Linda’s quietly blows away the South Side neighborhood crowd and occasional visitors. While the burgundy Naugahyde Zodiac Glitter Vinyl décor is strangely alluring, the appeal of Linda’s is almost entirely due to the hospitality of Linda herself and the antics of L-Roy Perryman, the lead singer for the Bulletproof Band, both of whom are co-owners. On almost every night, the “Fabulous L-Roy” gets the crowd going strong with his flamboyant charisma. Everybody in the place taps their feet and sings. You can’t help it. It’s great.
Housed in the base of a somewhat ramshackle two-flat, Linda’s Place can be found on West 51st Street on the southeastern edge of Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. On the outside, there’s not much to look at aside from Linda’s softly glowing Old Style sign that hangs over the front door. Inside it’s a different story. Walk through the battered wooden entryway and you’ll find a brightly lit space. A long bar runs the length of the western wall in the front room, whose rails are padded with the aforementioned Naugahyde Zodiac Glitter Vinyl, which matches that found covering the entire entryway as you walk out. The effect of all this glitter vinyl can be summed up in two words: hoochie mamma! Behind the bar, you’ll find an old-school, red-painted wooden back bar with fluorescent back-lit beveled glass and a cooler at the north end that contains a selection of primarily domestic bottled beer (you won’t find any taps at Linda’s). A mirrored eastern wall lies opposite, covered with publicity shots and photos of bands that have played at Linda’s, as well as pictures of Linda’s regulars. White ceiling fans and funky light fixtures hang from a cement ceiling, rounding out the décor. A crowd of primarily middle-aged, black neighborhood types drink beer with ice in it, seated upon the red-padded barstools, or at one of the red cocktail tables where one of the women behind the bar comes up to take drink orders.
The group known as “The Bulletproof Band” plays in the back room, surrounded by red linoleum, a smattering of tables and in front of an impromptu dance floor. There’s also a pool table, park bench, cigarette machine, and the bathrooms can be found in the northwest corner. While visiting blues musicians come to play at Linda’s, the main event is when Linda’s own L-Roy picks up his microphone and begins to sing blues classics. The mic is wireless so that L-Roy can roam around the bar, hit on all women, and let anyone sing if they know the words. If that’s not enough entertainment for you, there’s a video pokey just beyond the bar and before back room. L-Roy likes to come out especially when white folks descend upon the place during Chicago’s annual Blues Fest and the bar’s inclusion in the periodic Chicago Blues Tour, organized by Chicago’s “Blues University.” I took the Blues Tour in the winter of 2004, which also made stops at Alcock’s, East of the Ryan, 7313 Club, Rosa’s Lounge, Quencher’s, and House of Blues.
“L-Roy and Linda run Linda’s Place like a secret basement party with the best band you ever heard jamming next to the keg. L-Roy’s band plays a hybrid of soul, funk, and jazz with dexterity, and sometimes stepping behind the bar to serve a drink without missing a beat. The members of the band are also veterans of some of the best soul bands in town, and attract great musicians to sit in pretty much every set. The Monday night L-Roy sets (starting at 9:30pm) are quickly becoming legendarily random acts of soul. A friendly, well-lit venue helps elevate the atmosphere along with the musical testimony.”
– Chicago Blues Tour Winter 2004 guide
While Linda’s is a happy place, the neighborhood surrounding it is not. The bar itself lies down the block from a property where a friend of mine in real estate bought his first house for $5K, and stands across an empty lot from a house considered too expensive at $75K. “Linda’s Lounge has a coating of festive glitz, an almost literal insulation from the bleakness outside, where empty lots between buckling clapboard buildings serve as both garbage dumps and playgrounds,” (excerpt from “2003 is the ‘Year of the Blues.’ But as a music born of oppression becomes a feel-good soundtrack for white America, just what are we celebrating?” in the Sept-Oct 2003 edition of Mother Jones, written by David Hajdu – click here for the article). Hajdu also goes on to point out the following observations that underline the uncertain future of the blues:
“There were fewer than a dozen people in the club when I walked in, a bit after 10 o’clock–a tiny, quiet old fellow in a brown suit and a rakish, diamond-crown fedora; an ebullient middle-aged man in a black double-breasted sport jacket with no lapels; and two youngish women, one in a ruffled pink dress, the other in a one-piece black-lace pants outfit configured with an almond skin-tone lining to give the impression that she was practically naked; and several others. To the right of the bar, a quartet played a set of soft jazz and soul ballads, while one couple slow-danced. I was the only white person there–until around 11 o’clock. Then, carloads of people, none of them African American, began emptying into Linda’s, and the place changed. The band, apparently anticipating the onslaught, dropped the soul-jazz in favor of gut-bucket blues warhorses like “Sweet Home Chicago” and brought on a vocalist, L-Roy Perryman, a brassy showman in a blue jumpsuit. The bartender discreetly removed the basket of free hard-boiled eggs from the bar. The quiet old fellow snapped down the brim of his hat and strode out. The couple that had been dancing followed him. By midnight, Linda’s was packed tight. I counted 37 white faces–the pair of women in the pink and black lace were the only African Americans left at the bar. The decibel level seemed to have doubled. L-Roy Perryman boomed into the microphone, ‘Isn’t this a party?’ ‘Yeah!’ the crowd responded, hooting and applauding. The woman in the pink turned to her friend in the lace, and she muttered, ‘Yeah,’ dripping sarcasm. ‘For who?'”
If you can put both the neighborhood and influx of rowdy Caucasians during major blues events aside, Linda’s is a great place for blues, as well as some jazz and soul like David Hajdu encountered. If you decide to call upon Linda’s on your own, just make sure you drive. You can get there by taking the Dan Ryan to 51st and exiting west. You’ll find plenty of street parking. Just watch your back as this is a seriously rough neighborhood. I recommend that you visit with friends. Once at Linda’s, none of this will be a worry to you. Linda and L-Roy will both personally see to that. Hoochie mamma!
Sign in Linda’s mensroom: “Aim for the urinal, not the floor”