The Gallery Cabaret (Bar, Bucktown)
Over the intersection of Oakley and McLean Avenues hangs a white shining light beckoning those searching for nightlife in a generally sleepy part of Bucktown. The Leinenkugel sign is more obvious than the actual name of the place, which you eventually learn, is the Gallery Cabaret. The bar, music venue, and, of course, art gallery is more than just an average neighborhood corner bar. Inside you’ll find some of the liveliest and most eclectic people looking to share some ideas and get their drink on.
The first time I went to the Gallery was for one of their acclaimed Thursday night open mic nights. The $5 Lienenkugel pitchers on Thursdays more than sell themselves to the hipster clientele, but as expected, it can get quite crowded because of that. The two booths near the front door were full, as well as every bar stool — the folding chairs right up front and center by the stage were my only option. The next fifteen minutes of my life were set to endure some of the most awkward stand-up comedy I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience. But of course, open mics are hit or miss, and although the first night was a letdown, I have continued to go back and listen to some amazing bands, decent poets, and even a worthwhile comedian or two.
When not hosting open mic on Thursday and Sunday nights, there is still live music every other night of the week, and there’s never a cover. Every third Monday of the month you can catch Brian O’Hern and the Model Citizens, a 17 piece big-band orchestra crammed onto the club’s relatively small stage. Sundays and Tuesdays are host to a free buffet as well, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. respectively. The coolest thing about the space is its support of the arts. Every two weeks, a new artist has the chance to showcase (and hopefully sell) their artwork. The bar doesn’t charge anything, and the artist can fit as many pieces as they desire into the allotted wall space. Above the bar lives a super-collage of magazine cutouts, portraits, paintings, stickers and other random memorabilia. Some of the paintings were created by head honcho Kenny Strandberg, who’s been running the joint since 1988. With such a flurry of aural and visual distraction, it’s no wonder why many local artists find inspiration in the bar beyond the spirits.
In addition to the nightly drink specials that keep your wallet healthy, I’d recommend indulging in the Scandinavian treat, Glögg (pronounced like ‘glue’ with a ‘g’ at the end, or you can rhyme it with ‘lug’ to sound American). What was originally sold as a winter-time drink is now up for imbibing year-round. Homemade batches are provided by Kenny, the recipe consisting of a potent mixture of wine, brandy, vodka, spices, and fruit. The hodge-podge beverage is boiled and simmered with the purpose of warming your gullet on those late winter days where a frosty brew is not the preferred option. Overall, the bar fulfills a variety of needs for any given time. Pick your tunes on the jukebox before the show goes on and there’s a Golden Tee if you’re in the mood. The bartenders are very personable and willing to share their stories along with listening to yours. If you’re interested in performing or displaying your work at no charge, definitely get in touch with them. Truth be told, I have yet to see any cabaret performed here. Nonetheless, for artists, musicians, and the general nightlife infantry, the Gallery is a spot with which you’ll want to get more than acquainted.