The History of Wicker Park's Most Famous Music Venue
Double Door- Wicker Park Chicago 1572 N. Milwaukee Avenue
By Thyra DeCicco
On June 12th 1994 when Lloyd Cole showed up for sound check in Wicker Park’s newest club, the owners were still painting the walls. It was their very first show in their new space and they were down to the wire getting ready. The very talented Lloyd Cole was their first act. Cole played two nights and both of those nights were sold out. Not bad for a new club located off the beaten path in the very edgy – and still undiscovered - Wicker Park.
But that was just the beginning. The same week, The Smashing Pumpkins also played at this new club under the name Starchildren. And 3 years later The Rolling Stones would play here. The new club? Double Door.
Double Door is one of Wicker Park’s most beloved icons and an incredible institution that has helped to make Wicker Park the neighborhood it is today. I had the privilege of spending time with co-owners Andy Barrett and Sean Mulroney and long-time Manager Lorri Francis to discuss the history of the club, how the music industry has changed over the years and the day the Rolling Stones came to play.
How it Began
Andy: Almost 18 years ago, Sean and I were partners in another tavern called Sweet Alice in Ukrainian Village. It was our first foray into the bar business together. Sweet Alice was in a double store front building but we were only occupying one of the storefronts. So there was a vacant storefront. Sean and I wanted to use the 2nd vacant storefront as a music room. Our partners didn’t agree with us on that and other issues so we foolishly decided we look for another room to do the music in. We were already familiar with this neighborhood.
Sean: And 18 almost years later, we’re still here.
Andy: Sean is passionate about music and I’m more of the business guy. We married those 2 ideas and Double Door is the result.
Double Door Liquors
Sean: We discovered that the building was a tavern before prohibition. In the 1940’s -1970’s it was run as a barrel house where they were open 24 hours a day and served only shots and beer. They were running hookers out of the upstairs. This place has a lot history.
Was it Double Door liquors when you took it over?
Andy: A very small portion of the space by the entrance on Milwaukee Avenue (about 350 sq ft) was Double Door liquors and the rest of the building was a Country & Western bar called Main Street Tavern. When we first took it over there was a sect of people who didn’t want us here. They thought we were corporate guys. So every day they’d put super glue in our locks and we’d have to cut off the locks.
Photo: Smashing Pumpkins 1995. Photo credit: Love it Loud.com
The Very 1st Rock Show
Andy: Throw from Chicago and Wade from San Francisco played the first rock show. Throw and Wade were the first bands to really turn it up. It had never been that loud in Double Door before. Wade was sound checking and we happened to have a tin ceiling at that time. Tin ceilings have small holes in them and as the band was sound checking (because of the volume) dust started to rain down through the holes in the ceiling. There was a steady stream of silt and dust raining down on people all night long.
Chicago’s Music Community Steps In
Sean: The really nice thing is the music community in Chicago. When we were opening, everyone turned out to help. Everyone who was an industry professional in the city came out and threw in their 2 cents in terms of what we should do. And we figured out what we could afford or not afford and what made sense.
When you walk in the door, the vibe is undeniable. It’s dark. It’s edgy. And it’s a cool place to be. Period. The club is - and has always been -rock-driven but they’re open to every genre. As a venue, they’ve played host to just about everything from: classical, to S&M to male strippers and theater.
Lorri: We’ll try anything.
And they have; recently hosting the Chicago Best Friend’s Dog Pageant. Most notably, however, this club is known for its music. And if you’re a band trying to get a gig there, you know how tough it can be. They won’t book just anyone. You’ve got to make the grade ....
Our Exclusive Interview with the Amazing Owners of the Double Door Continued
Part 2- How the Music Industry Has Changed (Over the Past 2 Decades)