Double Door says landlords want club out


June 3, 2005


After months of downplaying the conflict, operators of Chicago's renowned Double Door rock club said yesterday that landlords are trying to evict them in favor of a national retail chain that might pay more than quadruple the rent.

Claiming that the landlords have declared a "war on culture," operators of the Wicker Park club said that, "Chicago's pre-eminent small music venue will be fighting for its very existence" Thursday in Cook County Court.

Chancery Judge Richard Billik is set to hear the case, which centers on a dispute over whether Double Door operators Sean Mulroney, Andrew Barrett and Joe Shanahan gave the required one-year notice to landlords Harry and Brian Strauss that they intended to exercise an option to renew their lease on the landmark 500-capacity venue.

Since June 1994, Double Door has hosted historic performances by the Smashing Pumpkins, the Rolling Stones and hundreds of other notable acts. When it opened in what had been a biker bar at the intersection of Damen, Milwaukee and North avenues, Wicker Park was a neighborhood in transition, with lingering traces of the seediness portrayed in Nelson Algren's famous novel, The Man with the Golden Arm.

Thanks to the forces of gentrification, Wicker Park is now the neighborhood of the golden rents.

Mulroney, who is also an attorney, said the fight isn't really about whether club operators gave legal notice to renew their lease, but about the landlords' desire to raise the rent for the space from $9 to $38 per square foot, or from approximately $45,000 a month to $190,000 -- a price that would make operating the club impossible.

Howard Golden, the landlords' attorney, would not talk about the specific increase his clients want. But he maintained that the current rent is far below market value, as confirmed by an appraiser hired by the family.


'This isn't personal'

The landlords were rumored to have been talking to the Banana Republic clothing chain about opening a store at the site. Golden denied that the Strauss family has a specific tenant in mind. "There are people who are interested in that location," he said.

"This isn't personal, and it's not like my clients don't like their music," Golden added. "It's just about getting a reasonable rent."

Mulroney called the landlords "disingenuous" and said negotiations broke down after Double Door offered to increase its rent to $24 per square foot.


Operators fear Lounge Ax fate

Rumors of the dispute have been swirling for months, but Mulroney said club operators only decided to go public yesterday because they hope Chicago's music community will come to court next week to support the club. "We didn't want to do what Sue Miller did with Lounge Ax; we thought she handled that poorly," he said.

Lounge Ax owners Miller and Julia Adams waged a protracted public battle with landlords at their Lincoln Avenue club before they were forced to close in 2000. Ironically, Double Door's operators started their venue to compete with Lounge Ax during the height of the alternative-rock era, when Billboard magazine dubbed Chicago "the capital of the cutting edge" and named Wicker Park as its epicenter.

Both sides are optimistic that they will prevail in court, but both granted that regardless of the judge's ruling, Double Door isn't likely to close soon.

If the club owners win their case, the lease will be extended for four more years with modest increases in rent, Golden said. If the landlords win, Mulroney promises to appeal, and he said that process could drag on for as long as three years.