Billy Corgan is working on opening a cool little tea house in suburban Highland Park. The Smashing Pumpkins founder and frontman lives in the tony North Shore burgh and frankly is tired of not having cool cultural things to do.
"We want to open it because there's nothing really to do up here," Corgan said, adding that it's a beautiful place to live. "But [there's a] lack of culture for someone in their 30s or 40s. I think for such a nice place you need places to go and meet people and exchange ideas. That's the idea fot the tea house ... a place to gather."
The unnamed tea shop will take over the former U.S. Post Office in the Ravinia neighborhood on Roger Williams Avenue. They recently signed the lease and have been working with Highland Park's mayor, who Corgan said has been incredibly supportive. The shop, which he's aiming to open in March or April, will seat about 30 people and have a 1930s Chinese-style tea house vibe. "It's a little bit of a salon vibe, not modern at all. Very old school," he said. "What we're going for is that Chinese-French style."
Corgan, a self-proclaimed tea guy, said he wants this to be a gathering place with rotating exhibits and speakers. He wants people of mixed ages to come enjoy either a simple cup of tea or become engaged in a lecture on archeology, view local or nationally touring art or listen to live music, but think more Fred Astaire than Radiohead as Corgan likes things with a more vintage feeling. "It has a whimsical feel to it ... it'll feel like you're stepping back in time in terms of space, but what we put into the space will change," he said. "My dream number is changing it 15 to 20 times a month where you're inviting people to talk about film or have an open mic night."
The whole concept is all about change and not standing still, it seems. Corgan is currently testing out and tasting through a number of different teas from all over the world since he wants to have a tea selection that will change every couple of weeks and even have unique and exotic teas on daily special. One thing he wants to avoid is having people come in and get bored that everything is the same. "Starbucks is all about 'sameness' and it attracts the same fucking people. I don't want to hang out with those people. I'm not into that cookie-cutter culture," he said.
The tea house will also offer coffee as well as some healthier, basic sweets, even vegan options. Corgan is currently meeting with local purveyors to sort out exactly what they'll offer. And they're working on designs for the space, but Corgan hopes Highland Park will let him put in a cool sign. "I'm envisioning something out of the '40s."
So will Corgan spend time in his own place? He said he hopes so, but "if people come in to stalk me I won't hang out because I don't want to disrupt the customers." It's for that reason he's having his friends who own the Ravinia Wine Shop across the street act as managers and other friends will book the acts. He sees this as being a "family-run" business in that sense. He added that his celebrity appeal could burn out quickly and he's not really using that to fuel the flames of success. "The celebrity factor will mean something for the first four to six months and then it'll come down to whether it's a good business."
While Corgan won't necessarily run the day-to-day operations, he sees his interest in tea (as well as his stake in a wrestling club he recently launched) as an opportunity to help cultivate his music. "I've learned that if you don't fill up the other side of your life with things you're interested in it hurts the musical side. It's about achieving balance."
Billy Corgan [Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images]