For years, Chicagoans often had to venture – or stay – well north of The Loop, the neighborhood at the Windy City’s epicenter, to catch marquee national acts at clubs like the Metro and Schubas Tavern and larger rooms such as the Riviera Theatre and the Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom.
But Chicago has changed, and so has its live music scene. Enter Nick Karounos, who owns and operates the city’s Concord Music Hall and PRYSM Nightclub, and whose latest venture, Radius Chicago, prominently demonstrates live music striking beyond the city’s previously established hubs.
The 3,800-capacity club opens with a performance by electronic artist Dillon Francis Feb. 29, and will bring rock, hip-hop, electronic, and more – initial programming includes Lil Wayne and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – to Chicago’s evolving Pilsen neighborhood, located southwest of The Loop and named the 10th coolest neighborhood in the world by Time Out last September.
“The initial concept was just to try to find a space that was really conducive to music and the event space in that 4,000-capacity range, and something that would fill the void that was between the Riv and the Aragon,” Karounos says. (The Riviera holds about 2,500, while the Aragon typically hosts just shy of 5,000
Karounos also wanted “something that was just a little bit more modern of a space,” which led him to Pilsen. “Love the area,” he says. “It was a space where a venue of that size could work, just with zoning and licensing and a number of factors.”
The venue’s genesis will be familiar to those who’ve kept tabs on other new clubs across the country, like Brooklyn Steel. Situated at 640 West Cermak Road, Radius Chicago will occupy what was previously a steel factory, and after that, a storage facility. While Karounos didn’t have to build the space from the ground up, he had to do just about everything else after selecting the real estate four years ago.
“It really was just a raw warehouse space that was converted into the venue,” he said. “It’s that coolness factor, too, of being in a warehouse type of space and taking it and converting it into a venue, or being in a specific area.”
In that sense, location isn’t the only aspect differentiating Radius Chicago from its peers. The Riviera and Aragon were built in 1917 and 1926, respectively, expressly as event spaces. Thalia Hall, the 900-capacity Pilsen room that reopened its doors for music in 2014, was built even earlier, as an opera house in 1892.
“A lot of the older venues [in Chicago] were either ballrooms or theaters that were converted into venues,” Karounos says. “Definitely one of the goals was to try to find more of a warehouse space to convert into a cool venue.”
The result has “a more modern, clean look to it, with a touch of an industrial feel – but still cozy and comfortable,” Karounos says.
Working from a bare-bones space allowed Karounos and his team flexibility when tricking out the room that would become Radius Chicago with modern bells and whistles, like d&b audiotechnik’s award-winning KSL system.
Though Karounos and his colleagues “contemplated” a movable stage like Brooklyn Steel and Washington, D.C.’s The Anthem have, they instead chose a fixed but scalable format that, after a partition wall is deployed, will restrict capacity of Radius Chicago’s main room to 2,500.
Meanwhile, Cermak Hall, a 10,000-square-foot, 1,350-capacity space adjacent to the club’s main one, will serve as a pre- and post-event gathering area and will also be able to host separate events and provide Radius Chicago the “opportunity to be able to do multi-room events.”
With Radius Chicago, Karounos is working to meet demand for a certain ilk of acts beyond Chicago’s North Side. Clubs such as the Subterranean and Empty Bottle have long been live music staples on Chicago’s West Side, but with respective capacities of 400 and 300, they’re only viable for smaller acts. Thalia Hall provides more room, but still falls short.
“The live music scene and acts in that 1,000 person to 5,000 person [range], it’s grown,” Karounos said. “It seems like it’s growing rapidly.”