Remembering Lounge Ax: Ten Years After
October 1st, 2009Filed under: Collections
Loved by rock fans and a favorite hang out of local musicians, Lounge Ax emerged as a leading Chicago nightclub during the height of Chicago’s post-punk rock and alt-country scene between 1987 and 2000, becoming legendary as one of the best places to hear alternative and indie rock. Located across the street from the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was gunned down, the small club often drew crowds at night that spilled out onto the sidewalk along Lincoln Avenue.
Known for their fresh and varied musical tastes, owners Julia Adams and Sue Miller lit up the Lounge Ax stage for big and small acts alike; including the alt-country bands Uncle Tupelo and the Old 97’s; Hoboken, New Jersey natives and indie rock elders, Yo La Tengo; and many, many Chicago acts including Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, and Eleventh Dream Day. Lounge Ax not only served as a rock club, it also featured Brigid Murphy’s sketch comedy production, “Milly’s Orchid Show,” which featured acts such as The Blue Man Group, David Sedaris, Nora Dunn, and Robbie and Donna Fulks.
Despite its cramped space, the bar retained its appeal—hosting hundreds and hundreds of indie rock acts during its 12-year stint. However, as with many other neighborhood bars, pressure from real estate expansion and the Liquor Commission as well as noise complaints from neighbors, legal fees, and the poor building conditions forced Lounge Ax to close after a new landlord purchased the building and gave the club 6 weeks to vacate. But Lounge Ax did not go down without a fight. Stories in the Chicago Tribune by rock critic Greg Kot and a compilation CD produced by Touch & Go records entitled “The Lounge Ax Defense and Relocation Compilation Disc,” the proceeds of which went to help defray legal costs, tried to save the club from closing.
In early January 2000, Lounge Ax kicked off a two-week-long finale before its doors finally shut on Saturday, January 15, 2000. The last few days attracted a huge number of fans and musicians to mark the end of this legendary music venue in Chicago.
In later incarnations, the building became a hybrid bar/club called Gramercy. Currently, it is home to the Soiree Bar Bistro. Lounge Ax was also featured in the movie High Fidelity (2000). Shot in the interior of the bar, Lounge Ax is where Rob Gordon (John Cusack) first encounters singer/songwriter Marie De Salle (Lisa Bonet).
The Chicago History Museum wants to document the history of Lounge Ax. If you have objects or images to donate to the museum please fill out our donation form. If, like me, you’re left with only memories, please share them with us by writing a comment below. Or just tell us why you think Lounge Ax is worth remembering, even if the memories are a bit hazy.