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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.