If you’re new to the city and someone happens to be talking up the Chicago music scene, maybe a casual reference to some show they caught at the Metro or how they hit up the Green Mill at least once a week, slip in a word about the Hideout. If they don’t know what you’re talking about then they’re full of shit. Now I’m not saying you’re not a Chicagoan if you haven’t been to the Hideout, I’m just saying if you pride yourself on rubbing the underbelly of the Chicago music scene and you’ve never been to this industrial shack then you’ve still got some learning to do. Everyone knows someone in a band, and plenty of these mediocre bands happen to occasionally play respectable joints on a week night — perhaps a Tuesday at the Empty Bottle or a Wednesday at Wise Fools Pub. But the Hideout somehow seems to weed out the truly talented, even if they’re just hitting spoons across their knee with a foldout chair nudged against the bar.
Maybe the talent plays up to the location, after all most of the groups are local and half the time the so called “band” is a compilation of musicians who have all played there with a different band. Yes, they carry roots from now famous performers like Jack White, Jeff Tweedy and Billy Corgan, but that’s almost not the point since those guys were just struggling musicians when they graced the Hideout stage (though they’ve been known to come back on occasion). A lot of times I go there I don’t even know who is playing, but I can usually trust the outcome. Admittedly, a lot of their music has a rockabilly twang that seems to fit right in with the wood paneled bootleggers basement, but there’s tons of rock, punk, indie, blues, jazz and all around obscurity that passes through. They also occasionally host speaking panels, dance parties and even have children’s shows for those procreating hipsters.
Ready to check it out? Good luck finding it. The Hideout isn’t just a clever name, it’s literally the only piece of retail for blocks, lying nestled in the industrial river corridor banked around Elston and the Kennedy Expressway. Just north of North Ave. is a street called Wabansia; you can only get to it from Elston and even after you’ve turned down it you’ll think “where am I?”. And then that big beer sign will appear twinkling in the distance, surrounded by manufacturers and hanging off a frame house that looks like Dorothy took a wrong turn and landed in an Upton Sinclair novel. Cover is usually five dollars but they’ll up it a little when they know they’ve got someone in demand.
Inside there’s a front room and a back room. The front room is an average sized bar with a small but quality tap selection. It’s nothing spectacular, but then that’s the point; you just walked into what appears to be a house and found a fully-functioning bar in the basement. They’ve got some seating out front now that lessens its incognito status in the summer, but then again smokers gotta rock out too. When they have a group who wants to get all blue grass they will setup a circle of musicians in the middle of the bar, which makes for an awkward crowd, but again, that’s the point.
The back room is separated by two flip doors which they’ll close or leave open depending on the music being played and the size of the crowd. It’s here where you start to feel like you’ve stumbled into a hunting lodge with more dead fish on the wall then a taxidermist’s rumpus room. The room is small enough that anyone could fill it, but the crowd is unmistakably there for the band. The stage is honest, deceptive in size but intimate no matter where you stand. I could wax all day about the feel and essence of this establishment, but nobody does it better then their own website. Suffice it to say while bars and music venues all over the city are trying to capture the perfect mix of dive and comfort, the Hideout mastered it decades ago. To quote their site, “The Hideout is not your Dad’s bar, but your Granddad’s bar. It is the bar that Granddad went to when he was young and crazy. He did his best to hide that past from your Dad, but you have found it.”
Location: 1354 West Wabansia