Three Floyds Zombie DustTony Karman is feeling pretty good these days. He’s less than one week away from Expo Chicago, the international art fair he has been planning for nearly two years, and he’s ready. Sharply dressed in a fitted suit (a contrast with the Hideout’s grungy T-shirt vibe), Karman settles into a picnic bench outside the bar with a glass of Three Floyds Brewing Company Zombie Dust in hand. “It’s been an amazing ride,” he says, “It feels like a real Chicago moment. All eyes on our city.”
Before he takes his first sip of beer, a neighboring drinker leans over and announces that Karman is reminiscent of an Italian movie star. “Thanks, man! Cheers!” Karman responds.
Karman was first introduced to the art fair world in 1983, when he was hired as a security guard at Art Chicago, the world-famous exhibition that ended this year. “I was just a guy coming to the city to find my way, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. But Art Chicago was such an exciting place, I made myself so indispensible that they had to hire me.”
Over the years Karman worked his way up Chicago's cultural ladder, eventually coming back to Art Chicago as vice president. Today, in his biggest job to date, he has gathered a team of Chicago A-listers—including the architect Jeanne Gang, the gallerist Rhona Hoffman, and the chef Michael Kornick—to craft (and hopefully pull off) a successful weekend.
Although Karman is among Chicago’s most prominent culturati, he still knows how to appreciate a good dive. “I’m hoping the Hideout will be a place where folks can come and have relaxed conversations [while in town for Expo],” says Karman. “It’s loose and real, and it’s not packaged. I love spaces like this.” He adds that in 1983, he drove visiting art dealers to the Checkerboard Lounge on the South Side. “It was an authentic Chicago experience for them. They still talk about it today.”
Expo Chicago runs September 20-23 at Navy Pier. For info, see expochicago.com
Photography: Elly Fishman