Photo courtesy of Wika GomezIn the northeast fringe of Logan Square lies the most legendary dive and punk rock emporium that you’ve never heard of, that rocks on in the spirit of Lounge Ax and Club Dreamerz. Officially known as “The Mutiny Corporation,” most know it simply as “The Mutiny.” The word “mutiny” means to rebel against authority and, while this term is most often used within a nautical context, the opening of Mutiny in 1990 was done in a fit of mutiny by the current owner, Ed, though he’d rather not talk about what he was rebelling against. Regardless, whatever his reason, his Mutiny is our gain: no-cover shows of some of the most raucous, head-thumping punk, hardcore, and alternative music around. Add to that dirty cheap 32-ounce cold beer, garage sale decor and a crowd you’d not want to encounter in a dark alley, and you’ve got a Chicago legend in the making.
The Mutiny, with its purple-painted, wooden facade and ancient Old Style sign advertising “cold beer” hanging over a battered wooden door, is found on the western side of Western, just north of Fullerton and the beer haven Quenchers, and just south of the Kennedy Expressway. “The Mutiny” blazes in the night with neon light, though the bar’s formal name is “The Mutiny Corporation,” as the owner incorporated upon opening. Step inside and you’ll undoubtedly encounter the most interesting corporation you’ve ever walked into. The bar, and the entire single-story brick building housing it, is actually one long room with flooring of black linoleum and exposed brick walls lined with old photos and concert posters of bygone shows. “Mutiny looks tiny, but it’s actually huge inside, like Oscar the Grouch’s trashcan home,” says Kiaresh Z. on Yelp (October 3, 2007), and I love trash…
Photo courtesy of trixiebedlamAn old wooden bar (actually two bars kludged together) runs half the length of the south wall and sports a baker’s dozen high-backed, black vinyl chairs. Mutiny offers four taps, two of which are Old Style, and you can have one for the recession-proof pricing of $3.75 for a 32-ounce glass mug, though the price goes up to $6 on weekends. When they run out of glass mugs (frosted to keep cold), they give you a plastic mini-pitcher. Behind the bar are postcards from bands that played there amongst all manner of other crap, and a series of dilapidated coolers and refrigerators barely hold together at the end of the bar.
Above the bar are a few TVs tuned to the Cubs game, and a drop ceiling that was once white but now features panels painted by regulars and local artists, ala Guthries. According to Billy Roberts in his article, Every Chicago Band’s Best Friend (April 27, 2007), “‘Sara Scott started doing that, back in 2002. She just started bringing in tiles that all these artists down in Wicker Park would paint,’ Ed tells me. Some are hand-painted, some are stenciled, some have collage. Each one is unique, and pretty amazing to look at. Rhonda, who is tending bar that night, makes sure to point out ‘The Angry Pussy,’ a house favorite.”
Across from the bar is a South Park pinball machine in northeast corner, next to three cork dartboards, a full-size knight’s armor that would make the Art Institute jealous, and a cigarette machine. A jukebox features punk and harder-edged alternative, including many of the bands that have played there, and stands next to a battered wooden phone booth with newspaper clippings covering the bar taped to it. A little further down are a pair of one-seater bathrooms, though they tell me the women’s is surprisingly clean and spacious, though the toilet may or may not be attached to the floor. A pool table lies just beyond and, like the darts and Golden Tee, it’s free. The air was once quite smoky in Mutiny, but the smoking ban has not only cleared all that out, but also some of the bar’s patronage to casinos and bars just over the border in Indiana.
- Photo courtesy of Marie Kanger-Born
The Mutiny’s resident historian
and red-haired friend
The Mutiny opened in September 1990, but what was the punk rock haven before? According to Howie, the Mutiny’s resident historian, it was a series of bars, including a place called Shag’s, Last Chance before that, and a bar run by Sonny (who owned the pizza place across the street). Prior to that, the bar was owned by a former journeyman boxer named Tommy Kluth who ran the place from the early 1950s until May 1, 1973. Kluth named his joint, “Tommy Kluth’s Gallery Bar-Headquarters, Veteran Boxers Association of Illinois, Ring No. 2.” The draw back then was that Kluth had a small boxing ring in the front of the bar, more for show than actual matches, and the walls were covered with pictures of famous boxers. Kluth also maintained a gallery of 450 pictures of local boxers who would come to Kluth’s for immediate recognition, and a handout if needed. The collection included a set of original drawings dating back to 1902 by Jimmy Lavant.
Not much is known about the bar prior to Tommy’s, but locals say that it was a two-lane bowling alley and that the building dates back to the early 1900s. Just take one look at the oversized urinal in the men’s bathroom, similar to what you’ll find at The Corner and McSorley’s in New York, and you know the place has been around for a long time – so long, they’re afraid to pull out that urinal for fear of what they might find in the process…
“Self-righteous punks, poor in both pride and personal hygiene, pound chintzy pitchers of PBR in this local dive… Five to seven nights a week different bands, and sometimes DJs, wail, groove, and sometimes get violent in a make-shift area in the back of the bar. Although it might not look like much, this is an excellent bar to hear the next big Chicago band before they iron the bugs out and lose credibility. Here’s to cheap beer and decent street parking.”
– Shecky’s online review
Because the Mutiny runs without a cabaret license (never applied for, actually), the place cannot legally charge a cover for bands, though it’s clear they probably would never want to. After an experiment in the early 90s, bands started to appear more and more regularly within the darkened back-room of Mutiny. Slowly but surely, this generated a head of steam and it was in 1998 that the roof almost literally blew off. A Mutiny regular, Seth Skudrick, from a band called The Nerves came in with an idea: three bands, Halloween night – how ’bout it? Sure. A series of colorful and professionally done concert bills were posted all over the city, one of which still hangs beside the bar and next to the front windows overlooking Western. A crowd, the likes of which had never been assembled in Mutiny, came for what turned out to be one of the best shows ever put on there, or anywhere. The Gaza Strippers headlined, along with The Nerves and Grand Theft Auto. People still talk about that show today and, since then, a legion of young, up-and-coming bands from Chicagoland and all over the country have played here.
“Ok, after spending a Friday night at the Mutiny I have to admit that there are some fucking perks to this crazy place. Perhaps, the fact that Ed will allow you to try to fuck in the phone booth is one of them. Maybe, the fact that you can bang for thirty minutes in the ladies room is one of them, but probably the fact that all the guys are trashy and will bite you like the slut-whore you are is the best part–even when the bands are shitty.”
– Sabrina C. on Yelp (June 5, 2007)
Photo courtesy of
The Mutiny’s HowieToday, bands play several days a week, all the way in the rear, on a rickety wooden stage. A skull & crossbones flag hangs on the back wall next to a mounted red electric guitar. Mutiny used to use an old PA system but have recently upgraded, though don’t expect a soundman. Bands load in through the front, so watch out just prior to showtime. This is usually when the crusty daytime crowd moves on. Bands are often playing for the first time, so you never know what you’re going to get, but know this: they play loud and, while the drop ceiling may absorb the sound up front, previous bands have knocked out most of the tiles in back, so bring your ear plugs. Jonathan A. on Yelp (May 25, 2008) points out the Mutiny bartenders’ mantra: “The good thing about the Mutiny is that they will book any band. The bad thing about the Mutiny is that they will book any band.” The Mutiny is widely known in the suburbs and outside of Chicago thanks to all the bands that have blown through the city and have ended up elsewhere: New York, Miami, New Orleans – you can bet they know Mutiny in the East Village, at the Clevelander and on Bourbon Street. The effect is like a modern-day Lounge Ax, though the big names that Lounge Ax sometimes got appear far less often because they don’t get paid here. On the other hand, the next band you see at Mutiny could be the next big thing, as Mutiny gives them a chance when other places like Empty Bottle, Double Door and Elbo Room might not give them a shot at all. If that’s not enough for you, Mutiny also features an open mic night the first Sunday of each month at 9:30pm, run by Paul Sigwerth, and karaoke on Saturdays from noon until 4:00pm – formerly geared to people who were still out from FRIDAY night, as they used to start at 7:00am.
“Where do I start with this fucking place? I’ve been sucked into the vortex here. I am currently disgruntled because they discontinued the 7 AM opening and I’m wishing it back real bad….even badder at 7:05 AM. I mean what’s a girl to do? With the 7 AM opening, you could literally live in a loud rock bar damn near 24 hours minus the travel times to and fro at closing / opening times. I’ll never forget the first day they weren’t open at 7 AM, slamming my drunken body into a locked door, falling back, laying on the sidewalk sobbing why, why. Oh, the tears. Turns out the morning bartender got knee surgery and grew accustomed to sleeping a little later while on disability. Very sad.”
– Christine S. on Yelp (January 10, 2008)
Until about a year ago, I had never heard of Mutiny. I started hearing more about it and, frankly, with a name like “Mutiny” and knowing that it hosted punk rock shows, I expected a place that the Hell’s Angels might frequent. Though the joint gives new meaning to hole-in-the-wall dive bar, what I found were actually a group of fairly down-to-earth people, though heavily tattooed and perhaps unshowered, who are as passionate about music as well as being open to people of all stripes, all of whom are united by a common goal: to rock out and get tanked. These are the very aspects of a watering hole that we appreciate the most, here at the Chicago Bar Project, and those that make for a truly unique and admirable tavern. If you like Mutiny, you might also like Fireside Bowl further west on Fullerton in Logan Square, but word has it that they don’t book nearly the same number of shows anymore. For more information on the legendary joint at hand, check out the Mutiny website, and be sure to say “hi” to Howie.