Underground Wonder Bar, a staple of late-night live music in the Gold Coast for 21 years, will shut its doors on Walton Street after one last big bash on Jan. 1. The building is set to be demolished to make way for—what else?—more retail and UWB has to vacate the premises.
The intimate and oftentimes raucous music venue, which is owned and operated by jazz/rock/folk/blues singer Lonie Walker, sits just below ground a block from tony Oak Street amidst posh upscale boutiques. Locals and Chicago visitors have hit UWB for two-plus decades to party until the wee hours with Walker and her Big Bad Ass Company Band, who will hopefully continue the tradition. If all goes as planned, Walker will move Underground Wonder Bar to 736 N. Clark, which once housed a second location of Blue Chicago, this February. But there's a catch. She needs money.
Walker currently is soliciting money to raise the necessary $200,000 to build out the new club. Anyone can donate—friends, family, a wealthy forgotten favorite teacher—and different levels of funding will receive a thank you gift ranging from UWB T-shirts and hoodies to lifetime free membership (read: no cover) at the new bar.
"It's bittersweet," Walker said. "It's a serious loss to all of Chicago with what we provide and the only thing I can solace myself with is that we will rise again in another location."
That new location will double the size of UWB and will allow Walker to book larger acts, like Cathy Richardson, who currently don't fit in the intimate confines on Walton. Walker also wants to bring back what she calls "international new age cuisine," things like chicken quesadillas, whole wheat pita pizza and tofu satay, which when she debuted the food two decades ago was fresh, but is somewhat run-of-the-mill today.
The Clark St. location should help draw more foot traffic and tourists from area hotels. But wherever Underground Wonder Bar lands, Walker says it's like coming home. "One of the reasons I'm not nervous [about moving] is home is where your heart is," she said. "And our heart is with Wonder. It's a feeling, not a building. People have told me for 21 years that they feel like they're home. That came from the people."
· Underground Wonder Bar's Fundraising Campaign [GoFundMe]