Chicago Loses Another Jazz Night Spot

Green Dolphin Street, the nightclub-and-restaurant complex at Ashland and Webster, has unceremoniously closed its doors, jettisoning employees and canceling scheduled musicians with virtually no notice. The move raises questions about what – even in this economy – is sure to be a valuable Wicker Park property.

Dave Freeman, who ran the sound at Green Dolphin Street, first reported the closing on his Facebook page Sunday. As of Tuesday, he had learned that all upcoming bookings for private parties were being moved to other venues, and that the property itself was now under bank management. As of Tuesday, its website – — had been suspended for non-payment.

The club first opened in the late 1990s, along with a pricey restaurant that went through at least one major menu renovation but each time received mixed reviews. In the last year, the restaurant underwent another change, switching to less expensive northern-Italian fare and changing its name from Green Dolphin Street to Orvie

Green Dolphin Street took its name from a movie themethat became a jazz standard. But from a jazz fan’s standpoint, it won’t be much missed.

The club had a poor reputation among many of the musicians who worked there, thanks to (among other things) the difficult acoustics of its gymnasium-sized music room, as well as unpleasant dealings with the club’s ownership and some of its management. No culture vulture likes to hear about the demise of a performance venue, but listeners and musicians alike don’t seem too worked up about this one.

Despite having hosted such world-renowned artists as organists Brian Auger, Jimmy Smith, and Joey DeFrancesco – and a raft of great Chicago players like guitarist Fareed Haque, organist Chris Foreman, and reedmen Rich Corpolongo, Sonny Seals, Ari Brown, and Richie Fudoli – the club’s original commitment to jazz had dissipated almost entirely. For a while, combos appeared on Sunday nights in the more intimate bar area. But for the last year or so, the only regular jazz remaining on the schedule was Bill Porter’s big band on Tuesday nights.

Even when the club did hire big-name artists, in its early years, its size and echo made it an unfortunate choice for serious listening. And the club’s seemingly preferred clientele – the urban hipsters who occasionally parked their ostentatious limos in front of the Webster Street entrance – usually treated the music as a necessary backdrop to participating in the social ramble.

Green Dolphin Street became known for hip-hop shows on the weekend and Monday “industry nights” under the heading of “The Boom Boom Room.” In recent years, the club achieved its greatest success with rhythm-and-blues and swing bands whose audiences made good use of the sizable dance floor.

Whether Chicago can support a nightspot to replace Green Dolphin Street as an upscale, moderately-sized venue remains to be seen. Whatever the reasons for Its demise — poor stewardship, changing tastes, its sheer size — the overall economic downturn accelerated it.  And those same conditions may make a replacement both unwanted and unlikely.

Article written by Neal Tesser

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Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 7:31 PM  Leave a Comment  

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