Sure, Chicago is known for a number of different things; deep dish pizza, ridiculously tall buildings, Screeching Weasel, Jerry Springer, etc, etc. A little known fact to the outside world is the Windy City is home to 1,000's of bars, each with their own distinct personality and flavor, a veritable drunkard's paradise if you will. That said, I'm a picky son-of-a-bitch and few is the bar I can belly up to and truly feel comfortable. Club Foot is one such place. Sure, the staff is uber-friendly, the drinks are just like I like'm (strong and cheap) and it's a short stumble home (for me at least). But, 2 things keep pulling me back to this Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park haunt: The DJs always keep you guessing with a grab bag of righteous grooves (punk, power pop, indie, soul, you-name-it.....). And the place is slathered head to toe in pop culture kitsch ranging from long forgotten rock memorabilia to a billion bizarre little knick-knacks made up of Happy Meal prizes and toys from the past 30 years. The latter gives me that warm welcoming feel of grandma's trailer (if only she would of fed me whiskey instead of that goddamn cream of mushroom soup). The aforementioned reasons make Club Foot one of my favorite bars to "get my drink on" at. So, recently I set out to get a little historical background on the joint and see what makes Club Foot tick via a chat w/ co-owner Chuck Uchida. What a great excuse to get sloshed!
Big D: So let's start out with the obvious, how long has Club Foot been around?
Chuck: We opened in January of 1995, so 13 years.
Big D: What's the story behind the bar, how did it all come about?
Chuck: My partner and I worked for another guy at an infamous punk rock bar called Dreamers (that was over on Milwaukee; it's now called Nick's Beer Garden). It was a place that had bands and was the only punk rock bar in th Wicker Park area at that point. We worked over there and managed the place for this guy (I did sound there, bartended and DJed) and after awhile we figured, maybe we could do this for ourselves. So we gave it a try.
Big D: What's up with the name of this place? My first time in, I half expected to be surrounded by handicapped barflys.
Chuck: It's a pun. Friends of ours were joking about it. Then we realized we had stolen it from a couple of English DJs who in the early 80's (before the term "rave" existed) used to have these roving parties in London. You'd look in their weekly paper (the NME, which was like our Reader) to find out where it was that night. It was called Club Foot because it wandered from space to space. Those guys stole the name from a soul bar in London from the 60's. And of course the name has been used in various comedy elements (Benny Hill, Mr. Bean, and stuff like that). We decided it was a good pun. We opened while other people were opening bars with deathly serious names; like a friend of mine was the manager of a bar called Aftermath. And their logo was a guy in a gas mask with mushroom clouds behind them. That didn't last that long.
Big D: What was this space prior to becoming Club Foot?
Chuck: It was the Lizard Lounge. Opened in 1987 and for most intents and purposes it was a new wave bar. A little bit out of it's time, a little bit late and a little too early to be retro. But, the space has been a bar since the 1880's. When the building was built, this space was built as a bar. If you look at the back of the bar, it's been here since the turn of the century. You don't see'em like this anymore. There's still a few in town, The Charleston has one. It's much smaller, but it's pretty cool. I'm trying to think of where else........ Anyway, ours is a linear, square, flat, tall design; where the others tend to have rounded corners and rounded wood. You know, that was the thing in the 30's. After prohibition the bars were opening again. Since most everybody threw out their old stuff when they closed for prohibition they had to get new bars. Here, they cleared out the front bar and they turned it into a "restaurant", but it looks like they were serving liquor in the basement.
Big D: The interior of this place is quite unique to say the least. It reminds me of memories from childhood. How did the idea for the decor come about?
Chuck: When my partner and I got together (we're boyfriend and girlfriend, we've been together 17 years now), we both realized we collected the same kind of junk. We ferreted away rock'n'roll memorabilia and a lot of pop culture stuff... like restaurant and fast food chain stuff. We both collected this stuff and when we got together it just doubled. That came out in the bar. We were both DJs too, so the record collection just doubled.
Big D: Do you still add to the "museum" around here?
Chuck: Yeah, occasionally we'll add to it. But at this point it's pretty packed. I think we might even need another bar to continue adding stuff.
Big D: Do you have any favorite items around the bar?
Chuck: All the real good stuff is at home. But, this stuff is all connected to our past. So everything has some sentimental value, like some band we saw or some show we were at...so it's very connected to our lives. We decided it was an interesting way of decorating a bar; instead of various pictures of sports guys.
Big D: So your home decorated in the same fashion?
Chuck: Not quite as crazily, but there's a lot of junk. Basically, this whole thing comes out of the fact we're ferrets and we hold onto things and collect things. So, the home's not that much different. The bar just allowed us to get the stuff out of our house and make room for more junk. When we end up closing, we'll probably have to retire it all to Ebay.
Big D: Fuck that, you could have an auction right here. Start in one corner and just go down the line, have it during the summer, call it "Foot Fest". You'd make a million dollars with all the relics in here. I got dibs on the Castle Grayskull.
Anyway, on to the next question: You have "the king's throne" in the men's bathroom. There are rumors circulating that Elvis had stopped in here and took a shit in that very room. Any truth to it?
Chuck: Not true. The whole concept was we wanted to do this back-handed tribute. The whole men's stall is lined with hundreds and hundreds of pictures of Elvis. I actually wanted to paint the toilet gold but I couldn't find a primer that would stick to porcelain without sanding the toilet by hand. The goal was to have a golden toilet and tons of pictures of Elvis since he died on the throne.
Big D: Dammit, I crapped in there for nothing. What do you consider the house specialty drink-wise?
Chuck: Here, it's a lot of beer, a lot of shots. We have a drink we call the Blue Island; which is a Long Island iced tea but it's incredibly blue. We're known to make a damn good martini but we try to keep that under wraps 'cause sometimes on a really busy weekend that kind of stuff tends to slow you down.
Big D: Any thoughts on Illinois' smoking ban?
Chuck: It has it's positives and it's negatives. The negatives are that people are still adjusting to it. It's probably gonna take through this winter for people to get fully acclimatized to it (literally). Also, we are noticing that certain smells are becoming more prevalent, being summer and all. The cigarette smell tends to cover up certain things. A lot of bars in town are wishing the cigarette smell was still there. But the good part is, I enjoy waking up the next morning and not spitting things up. Your hair and your clothes don't smell as bad when you leave here now. I was a smoker for 25 years, and after awhile I just couldn't take it.
Big D: With the smoking ban and the economy in the state that it's in, how has business been affected?
Chuck: This last winter was weird one. It was pretty rough if anything, between the economy, the smoking ban and the weather (which was just pretty brutal this last winter). That all kind of affected business. It reminded me of the first 2 years we were open; just kind of staring at the walls a lot. But with summer, it's all starting to come together, it's picking up. Plus, The neighborhood has just blown up. I don't know if you've been up on Division here, but it looks like South Beach now. It's pretty, scary.
Big D: I've noticed this place is very music oriented. Why not do like so many others and just push play on an Ipod and forget about it instead of having a DJ during business hours.?
Chuck: What we do is just kind of feed from our own collection. But the jukebox thing is unfortunate, you tend have regulars and people that will come in and play the same song every single day. It's quite alright, but it drives the people who work here insane. Even still, with the DJs, we have people who come in and request the same song every night or the same song every week on the same night. It gets to the point where they'll walk up to the booth and my partner or I will be DJing and we'll know exactly what the guy's gonna ask for. With out having a jukebox we're trying to avoid that repetition. It manages to kill music you love. There are certain songs that have been killed for us over the years.
Big D: What kind of record collection do you have up there?
Chuck: I'd say anywhere in the realms of Almost 2,000 pieces of vinyl and probably an equal number of CDs.
Big D: No shit. So I take it there aren't any computers in the booth whatsoever?
Chuck: Nope. It's very low-tech. We just started buying CDs in the early 90's because nothing was coming out on vinyl anymore. Variety is pretty much our thing. It's really anything goes, but we try to make it fit together. Usually there's some weird common thread, an unusual line of thought or a progressive theme going through a set of songs. That came from my years in college radio. I worked at a station where it was pretty much everything and the kitchen sink, but we tried to make it work. It's like "I'm going to play these 5 songs, they're all about flies" or "we're going to play 4 hours of music about food." We'll do that around here, play a 5 or 6 song set with a theme and see if anybody catches on to it.
Big D: I'll drink to that. On a final note, what's the secret of Club Foot lasting the test of time.
Chuck: I don't know. We're just lucky and we're pretty consistent with what we do and we're just glad people like it. Conceptually, there's nothing like it in this town.
Big D: I'm guessing nowhere else in the world.
Club Foot is a must-see for anyone with a liver and is located @:
1824 W Augusta Blvd (Between Ashland and Damen) Chicago Il 60622
Hours of operation:
Open 7 days a week, 8pm-2am, 8pm-3am on Saturday