Closing a Kinder, Gentler Art Space

"Chicago House is as much an idea as a place," says Peg Miller who, along with co-owner Glynda Cox, will no longer have a home for her idea come November 1. "This most likely isn't the ultimate end," she says, "just the end at that location" on Trinity just north of Sixth Street.

Miller cites recent weekend street closures of Sixth Street, which made immediate access to the venue impossible, as the main reason for Chicago House's demise. "Last month alone we lost two and a half weekends (of business) to street closures. Nobody's cutting my rent or utility bills in half during that time," says Miller.

Miller also mentions Chicago House's growing incompatibility with the East Sixth Street neighborhood as another big reason for the closure. "We have a kinder, gentler clientele. People came to Chicago House in spite of Sixth Street, not because of it. I think all the art spaces in the area are being squeezed out by a kind of `Bourbon Street' mentality."

In the coffee-venue scheme of things, Chicago House is a wonderful mutt. It's a "Stalwart" by virtue of its longevity and international notoriety, and a "Young and Restless" venue in its spirit of adventure. In fact, it has probably shown more sense of adventure in its booking tack, booking everything from performance art to theatre to poetry to folk to art bands, than any of the Y&Rs cited in the article. Whether this willy-nilly approach to booking has as much to do with its present state of affairs as the blocking off of Sixth Street is debatable. What's obvious, though, is that a lot of history has been made there.

Since opening as Chameleon's in 1984 (it became Chicago House in 1987), Chicago House has seen a lot of people move from its stage on to bigger and better things. "Alejandro Escovedo made his acting debut here," says Miller. "Tish Hinojosa played here all the time when she was first starting out. We booked Jimmy LaFave when no one else would. We basically opened Chicago House so Jimmy could have a place to play after Chameleon's closed. Will T. Massey was headlining Chicago House when he was too young to legally enter other places. I have fond memories of watching Betty Elders play. There's been an awful lot of magic on that stage."

Yet, as of this writing, no potential new locations for Chicago House have been scouted. "We hope to find a kinder, gentler location," chimes Miller. She asks interested parties to keep their eyes open for a compatible space. You can tell her about it by calling 473-2542. She's also seeking volunteer workers to help move everything out when the time comes and storage space to keep it all while the search continues.

Esther's Follies and Electric Lounge are among the venues who have volunteered so far to host Chicago House benefits in the immediate future. Others are sure to follow. Donations can also be made to the Austin Circle of Theatres, or the Chicago House-Phoenix Foundation if you don't feel like going out.

- J.M.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle