Checkerboard Lounge to open by Nov. 18

By Usman Ahmed

Jazz and blues enthusiasts who have eagerly followed the fate of the Checkerboard Lounge can finally put away their recordings and look forward to live jam sessions in Hyde Park. The Checkerboard Lounge’s grand opening is officially scheduled for the weekend of November 18, although the club may open as soon as next week, according to L.C. Thurman, the owner of the Checkerboard Lounge.

The Checkerboard Lounge, which opened in 1973 in Bronzeville, quickly became a celebrated blues club that hosted musical legends such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin.

The venue will reopen in Hyde Park as a jazz and blues club, after much aid from the University.

City inspectors permanently shut down the Bronzeville club in April 2003 due to the building’s poor condition.

The University encouraged Checkerboard Lounge owner L.C. Thurman to relocate to Hyde Park, angering some Bronzeville residents who accused the University of stealing the club from its previous neighborhood.

Jim Wagner, chair of the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, said in spring 2005 that the interior work in the club was complete.

“All the paperwork is done,” Wagner said. “We are keeping our fingers crossed, but are very confident that the club will be open in a matter of days.”

Wagner’s comments contradict a recent Hyde Park Herald article that speculated that the club might open this week. The Herald, however, noted that the opening depended on Thurman’s obtaining a liquor and entertainment license from the City of Chicago, which he must have in order to open and operate the club.

Thurman said that municipal officials had notified him on Thursday, November 3, that his request for a liquor and entertainment license was successful, and that the club might open “next week.” Thurman declined to offer more specifics on the anticipated opening of the club, saying it was only speculation at this point.

Nevertheless, Thurman’s announcement brings the club steps closer to becoming the first permanent venue for jazz and blues in Hyde Park in over 25 years.

Normally a straightforward process, obtaining a liquor and entertainment license has been unexpectedly trying for Thurman, who delayed the originally planned opening last spring by several months while waiting for paperwork on the licenses to consummate.

Wagner explained that Thurman’s previous licenses had expired, forcing Thurman to re-apply for the new licenses.

While the matter of securing a license has proven to be the club’s largest headache, Wagner said that it was only one of several snags to come up in recent months.

According to Wagner, officials were forced to replace and obtain new furniture for the club after the garage that stored furniture from the Bronzeville club was broken into last year.

Wagner said that in the past few weeks, officials responsible for the Checkerboard Lounge were dealing with “some kind of insurance problem,” forcing the club to seek legal aid.

Music lovers like Thurman and Wagner, however, remain undaunted by the Checkerboard Lounge’s legal and bureaucratic roadblocks as they optimistically prepare and plan for the club’s opening.

According to Wagner, the club will host blues musicians throughout the week and on Friday and Saturday nights. Jazz will be played on Thursday and Sunday nights, and possibly on Sunday afternoons.

The new club, which will have a minimum age policy of 21, will re-open with a full, brand-new bar and have a non-smoking policy. The club will seat about 135 to 145 people, and there will be a cover charge of a yet undetermined amount.

Blues musician Vance Kelly will inaugurate the club’s stage on Thursday, November 17.

The Checkerboard Lounge will be closed to the public on Friday, November 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. for a “very special night,” when it will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony and private fundraiser for the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, according to Wagner. Additionally, Wagner said, the University’s soon-to-be departing president Don Randel, who plays jazz piano, will be honored for his efforts to secure the club’s new Hyde Park home, alongside club owner L.C. Thurman. Doors will reopen to the public at 9:30 p.m., once the private fundraising events conclude.

The Checkerboard Lounge is located at 5201 South Harper Avenue in the former Women’s Workout World space at Harper Court.