Chicago Back In Check

Famed Chicago blues nightclub the Checkerboard Lounge has officially moved from its location in the city’s Bronzeville district to a mall in Hyde Park, near the campus of the University of Chicago.

The Checkerboard Lounge thrived 20 years ago with visits by Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters.

Back then, the club was owned by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and L.C. Thurman, and it was one of the few racially integrated music venues in Chicago.

But as interest in blues music waned, the club lost its ability to stay afloat. It was closed in April 2003 for several code violations and Guy sold his interest in the club. It is currently owned by Thurman.

“We’re trying to get this club going like the other one – make it a good blues club, safe for people to come and have the best music,” Thurman told Pollstar. “When they leave here, I want everybody to say, ‘I enjoyed myself and I’m satisfied.'”

The university’s president, Don Michael Randel, plays jazz piano and was reportedly instrumental in securing a new place for the club, which is within walking distance of the campus. The new, 200-capacity version was set to open November 18th with a private fund-raiser for the Committee to Restore Jazz in Hyde Park, including performances by Malachi Thompson, The Willie Pickens Trio, Maggie Brown & Trio, and the Jimmy Ellis Quartet.

This version will add jazz to the blues genre. Thurman plans to have a jazz band play each Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to help customers get used to the format.

The move to the new location had its share of controversy. A protest group believed the university reneged on a promise to try and keep the club in Bronzeville. A university spokeswoman responded that relocation was the only way to keep the club on the South Side.

Booking is being handled by Dolores Scott, who used to book the original club. Scott can be reached at 773-710-5363, and the club’s phone number is 773-684-1472.

– Joe Reinartz