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R.I.P., Bars of My Youth

I got my first fake ID when I was a senior in high school; according to it, I was 23 and from Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m not sure how anyone bought it then, since, at 32 now, I still get carded. But in Rogers Park circa 1991, it got me into the now-closed Biddy Mulligan’s every Tuesday for nickel-pitchers night. My friends from Highland Park High School would come down to the city, and we’d tell our parents we had a study group, but really we were sneaking off to catch a live band and drink cheap beer out of plastic cups. We thought we were so cool.

Phase Two Drinking came during college, of course. We graduated from the fake out-of-state IDs to our own altered Illinois driver’s licenses (sorry, Mom and Dad). During breaks home from Kansas, my favorite Chicago haunts were Solo, the original Dragonfly (which is now Spoon, 1240 N. Wells St.), and Shelter. Carding was a little tougher at these bars, but we managed to make it in once in a while. Spotting a pool-playing David Schwimmer at Solo was my first brush with celebrity. I remember a friend of mine challenging him to a game. Always the aloof one, he gave her a look that said, “Back off.” It was the highlight of our night!

After college - and officially of age - my first taste of a resto-lounge was the Hudson Club, where SushiSamba Rio now resides (504 N. Wells St.). The interior was draped in burgundy velvet, I remember, with very mod lines - a typical Jordan Mozer-looking space. We’d get all dressed up in our favorite Bebe outfits and settle in for the night, sipping wine and flirting with boys who’d been a few years ahead of us in high school - and who wouldn’t have given us the time of day back then. “It was a scene before we even knew what a scene was,” said my friend Lori, always one of the regulars.

Nightlife reporting means I often end up taking a walk down memory lane. Seeing a favorite bar transform into yet another new spot always gives me a pang of nostalgia - places like the Lounge Ax, which caused a stir in the indie-rock community when it shut down in 2000; the space is now home to The Gramercy (2438 N. Lincoln Ave.). In 2005 another institution closed: the original, worn Lava Lounge, which in February moved to newer, sleeker digs and dropped the “Lounge.” The new location (1270 N. Milwaukee Ave.) barely resembles its former self, save for the eclectic DJ lineup (read my Nightspotting column in the May issue of Chicago for a full review).

I decided to poll some friends about their favorite now-shuttered spots:

Tom, 30: “I used to go to Jay’s [now RiNo, 343 W. Erie St.] every night. I loved everything about it, from the jukebox to the 4 a.m. liquor license to the cheddar fries and mozzarella sticks to the cheap drinks and seedy city people who mingled comfortably with the fancy [people].”

Michael P., 37: “I loved The Chase Bar on Racine [now Gaslight Bar & Grille, 2426 N. Racine Ave.]. It was great because you could buy a mug there for, like, $2, and then on Monday nights, if you brought your mug back, beers were 50 cents.”

Michael S., 38: “I used to live up the street from Otis’s [formerly on Halsted Street, in Lincoln Park] in 1991-93 and would go there all the time to just hang out and see bands. To this day, I have a vivid memory of seeing the Colorado band Acoustic Junction with some friends; in addition to great music, it was a drunken mess. Such a fun place.”

Maggie, 32: “Frankie’s [formerly on Milwaukee Avenue, in Wicker Park] was a great late-night spot to meet cute boys. I loved the music, and you always knew you’d run into people you knew there. We went the first couple years after college.”

Adam, 32: “Being a young twentysomething living on the North Shore, Rainbow’s in Highwood was the hot spot for me and my friends [when we were] home from college during summer break. It had a reputation for being lenient when it came to carding young patrons. It was also a nice fit for a college student with a limited budget, [just] footsteps away from other [bars].”

Audarshia, thirtysomething: “I was a few years shy of getting the opportunity to party at the Warehouse, the world-famous venue that launched house music and the career of legendary DJ/producer Frankie Knuckles. But I was part of the next generation of house music fans who frequented such places as the Music Box [called “The Box"] and the Power Plant. Both of these were located in what is now known as the South Loop. For us, house music was more than just gyrating all over the dance floor; it was a culture. Just like hip-hop, house music had its own style and language, from slick, Euro-inspired clothes to gymnastics moves on the dance floor. Rarely did a fight break out at a house-music party.”

Lori, 32: “When I was home for the summer in college, my friends and I would trek from the suburbs to Moran’s on Clybourn and Racine [now Zella, 1983 N. Clybourn Ave.]. It was literally the only place we could figure out how to get to in the city. We weren’t all of age, but they always let us in with the IDs we had. It was the place we could always find the older guys we went to high school with who came back to troll for younger girls. The backyard patio was the best, and they had tons of TVs [where we watched] Michael Jordan and all the Bulls’ playoffs action. [Plus,] a great jukebox.”

Everyone has a favorite long-gone stomping ground. What’s yours?

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