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The Hideout: Chicago's Dusty Jewel

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The Hideout way has been to take it day by day.

So it is hard to believe that the beloved Chicago music club and social incubator opened in 1996 as a musical venue. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was drinking shots of tequila with Tim Tuten and Katie Nicholson during the smoky 1990s Thursday night jazz sets at Weeds, 1555 N. Dayton.

They would talk of their dream of buying the gritty frame and tar-roofed bar just north of Weeds where Nicholson's father Tom liked to have a drink after selling rocks for Vulcan Materials Co. along Route 66 in McCook, Ill. Their dreams came true and also stayed grounded.

The Hideout is heavy mettle on the easy listening near north side......

......"I never thought this whole vacant piece of land right next to the expressway in between Lincoln Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park would stay the same," co-owner Mike Hinchsliff said in a recent conversation in the club's front room "A manufacturing district. I thought we'd been out because box retail would have come in and taken the whole thing over."

Like the flutter of a young heart, the Hideout beats between the muscular City of Chicago Fleet Service Center and Safran Metals.
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L to R: Bartender Marie Marasovich, Tim Tuten, Dave Hoekstra, Neko Case at Hideout 2001

City of Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson explained, "That neighborhood has always been a hidden away residential pocket amongst heavy industry. Its an area accustomed to having trucks roll in and out. Where before up and down Wabansia would have been buildings similar to the Hideout, most of them were replaced by factories in the early 20th Century. It was a working class neighborhood. It changed ethnicity many times and was quite a mix by the time of Prohibition. There was a large Czech population and Irish immigrants from the early days.

"By that point residential character was an island in a sea of industry. In some cases you have businesses that just stayed there. Also the city is very protective of industrial areas. Industries are jobs. I cannot speak to what the zoning or planning is in that area, but I know Chicago keeps a close eye on what happens to areas of industry."
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The great Lawrence Peters at the Hideout--not a martini bar. (Sun-Times photos by Richard Chapman)

There was one offer to buy the bar several years ago, according to Tuten.
"Here's the key," he said. "We never bought the bar thinking we're going to buy a bar, fix it up and sell it. We bought this bar to be FitzGerald's (in Berwyn). Weeds. What (the North Lincoln Avenue) Lounge Ax wanted to be. It was like, I want to be in that band. When we bought the bar in 1996 so many people told us to make it a martini and cigar bar because that was a popular trend. I love cigars, but we never wanted to do that. We wanted a bar to make it look like when you walked in it looked like it had been here 100 years---as it has."

Nicholson added, "We weren't looking to buy a bar at all. It was THIS bar. My dad was a regular here. It was a workingman's bar where everyone felt welcome. It was important to us that people felt it was theirs. It is a democracy---except when Tim interrupts me. The bartenders decide where everything is going to go. We threw the trump card on the (black) baby grand piano. But it works. Someone gave it to us.
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"Almost everything in this bar people gave us."
Including their love.

Not much has changed inside the Hideout in 15 years. Near the front window there is a classic black and white photo of 1969 Cubs reliever Phil Regan getting inspected for his spitball during a game at Wrigley Field. Mike Hinchsliff rescured the photograph from the now-defunct Ron Santo restaurant in Schaumburg, Ill. It matches the bar's other black and white portraits of '69 Cubs. He said, "The reason the Cubs pictures were always at the Hideout here is the guy (Angelo "Sax" Favia) who owned this before us was a friend of the grounds crew."

Mike Hinschsliff remembered, "When we bought this it was open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. It hadn't been vibrant at all in the 90s because the jobs had left. They still ran the kitchen. Sam still came in every morning and set up."

Tuten, Nicholson and Mike and Jim Hinchsliff inherited bartender Sam Grizzaffi in 1996.
He was a 65-year-old former boxer, strip joint bouncer and Corina Larks cigar smoker. He had been hanging around the Hideout for 50 years. "We used to go dancing every Friday and Saturday night," Grizzaffi told me in a 1998 interview in the heart ward of St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital. "Everybody had to buy a drink before they'd go out of the joint. One guy used to drink beer out of a big fishbowl. And when nobody finished their beer, on the way out they threw the beer in his fishbowl. Little quirks.

"The front room has always been the same as it is now. We had a jukebox with old stuff, like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. There was no back room (where concerts now take place). That was all trees and bushes. We leveled it, brought in a builder and added the back room in the 1950s. My first wife worked there 33 years. She was a waitress and a '26 Girl.' It would cost you a quarter to play." Hideout regulars would roll the dice, wishing on a two and a six. The winner would get a book of coupons that could be redeemed for drinks.
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The Hideout has rolled a two and a six over the years.
Earlier this month the Hideout went global.

"On the night than Rahm (Mayor Emanuel) and Jeff Tweedy (Mayor of Wilco) were here I went home and saw this e-mail," Nicholson said. "It was from a friend who lives in Birmingham, England. Our friends Nicky and Eugene Dowd got a brick community house on the first piece of green space outside of Birmingham. They named it The Hideout because of us. They do shows there once a month. And one of our first daytime bartenders Kathy Gilfoy moved to northern Wisconsin. They named their bar Hideout 2."

During Tweedy's visit a couple of weeks ago he played some Black Eyed Peas covers. Tuten recalled, "Sue Miller was here from Lounge Ax (Tweedy's wife). Sue Miller, Julia Adams from Lounge Ax, just like Bill (FitzGerald)---they love music. They love the business. I hugged Sue and said, 'You are the most amazing person, thank you.' We kept talking about the connection of the clubs. Jeff Tweedy says to me, 'What am I, chopped liver?' I told him I respect him so much as an artist, but in the real bar music club business, Sue is my rock star! You are the superstar!"

Those who know Tim know just how Timmy he can get.

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The Hideout has a legacy of outgoing bartenders.
I spent one Christmas Eve with country-soul singer Kelly Hogan while she was tending bar at the Hideout. We adjourned to the Old Town Ale House ."Kelly worked here for years," Nicholson said "She's still one of our best bartenders. She's so personable and one of the world's greatest story tellers which always makes a great bartender . She invented the Wooden Leg (rye whiskey over soda water, bitters and lemon). We called her 'Hazel' because she was so neat and tidy. Kathleen Judge, who is a phenomenal artist, worked during the day. We asked her to do a poster for an art show." Judge did the poster for the Oscar Brown, Jr. concert at the Hideout, a piece of art I treasure.
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Nicholson continued, "Neko Case came to more staff meetings than she actually worked." Case's touring band includes Hogan and Hideout house musician Tom Ray. Scott Ligon (now of NRBQ) was a Hideout doorman as was Chris Salvater (a.k.a. Judson Claiborne). The great Laurence Peters used to work at Lounge Ax.
He plays in seven Chicago area bands including the hard country Lawrence Peters Outfit.
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Here is Lawrence covering the Staple Singers classic "Uncloudy Day."

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The Hideout's pre-music pedigree likely includes a visit from Chicago writer and rambler Nelson Algren. Algren photographer Art Shay told Tuten that he and Algren would stop by the Hideout. They would be walking back from Stuart Brent Books in Old Town to one of Algren's cribs in Wicker Park, just west of the Hideout.

City historian Samuelson said, "Algren did get around. He would make his presence known.You can see that bar, by the design of the bar, has been there a long time. But they didn't list themselves in the directory. Actually on my desk right now is taverns for that quadrant of Chicago. I've looked at three pages and I'm only on the c's. It makes me wonder if it was a low key neighborhood club or a lodge hall, I don't know. A lot of places just operated under the radar."

No longer. The Hideout needs to be seen to be believed.

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L to R: Tim Tuten, Jim Hincshliff, Katie Nicholson, Mike Hinchsliff. Thanks for makiing a difference.
Sun-Times portrait by Richard Chapman.

FOR MORE on the history of The Hideout, see the Sept. 23, 2011 Weekend Plus edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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