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How Hyde Park Got Its Groove Back

The Promontory is booking some of the hottest gigs in town.

Kindred the Family Soul gets the crowd going   Photo: Jessica van Fleteren

At the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue, in an increasingly bustling patch of Hyde Park, sits the Promontory, the newest restaurant-club combo from the team behind the Empty Bottle, Chicago’s beloved club in West Town, and the eatery Longman & Eagle in Logan Square. You can’t miss the place—it’s big and blocky and vaguely resembles a fortified log cabin—and inside you’ll find what the South Side had been missing for decades: a high-functioning home for topflight music.

Conceived as part of the University of Chicago’s $250 million Harper Court redevelopment, the Promontory serves as restitution for the school’s urban renewal program that in the 1950s erased such Hyde Park jazz stalwarts as the Beehive Lounge, the Cadillac Lounge, and Lee Loving’s Hi-Hat.

With its majestic chandeliers, elegant drapes, and four-sided marble bar, the Promontory’s 600-capacity second-floor music space has the mojo of a club, the beauty of a theater, and the acoustics of an opera house. The crowd—spiffed up and seriously diverse—is just as charming.

But the main thing that sets the Promontory apart from the city’s myriad PBR bars is its booker, Jake Austen. In just eight months, he has established the club as the South Side’s go-to place for jazz, blues, and soul, mostly from local musicians. The South Side Big Band, for example, a jazz ensemble that famously refuses to play north of Madison Street, has headlined three nights. And though Austen won’t dub the Promontory a haven for displaced genres (“I think people had places to play—there’s an underground”), he will say a better site was needed. “On Sundays, the Hyde Park Jazz Society does jazz on 43rd Street [at Room 43]. But they don’t have a PA system. I love having the same guys here and being able to give them the top experience they can get.”

If ticket sales are any indication, fans enjoy the experience as well. Austen says that shows sell out on a weekly basis.

“I see an audience at the Promontory that I’ve known for 50 years,” says local soul singer Otis Clay, who performed there in October. “These are people that have money but don’t have a place where they feel comfortable spending it.”

Which is why Austen resists calling the Promontory a game changer. “This is a game reviver,” he clarifies.

 

Coming Soon

JAZZ

Xavier Breaker Coalition

Led by drummer and South Carolina transplant Xavier Breaker, this act keeps things frenetic in the best way possible. March 6 at 8 p.m. $15

JAZZ-RAP

The Genius of Jazz & Hip Hop Vol. 4

Saxophonist David Boykin joins hip-hop trio the Primeridian for a show of rap-fused jazz and jazz-fused hip-hop. March 12 at 8 p.m. $10

BLUES

Billy Branch

This harmonica-wielding bluesman plays everything from 12-bar rollickers to odes to shuttered Bronzeville clubs. April 11 at 8 p.m. $12–$22

Advance tickets can be purchased at ticketweb.com.

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