The Underground Lounge, formerly Magoo's and not to be confused with the Underground Wonder Bar, is a hidden Wrigleyville gem. While surrounded by sports bars to the immediate northwest and gay bars to the east, the Underground has stood out as one of the best alternative live music venues in the city since 1996.
The Underground Lounge is located in the Links Hall Theater building next to a convenience store and across from a liquor store (which rooks suburbanites for $10 for Cubs parking) on Newport, less than half a block east of the Sheffield / Newport / Clark intersection. Just look for the green awning and you're there. After descending the rickety wooden stairs, you'll most likely be greeted by a guy asking, "You here to see the band?" Cover charge never seems to be more than $5, and I've often not had to pay the cover because I wasn't there to see the band. However, after hearing some excellent music there in the past, I now come to see the band and pay the inexpensive cover.
The Underground seems more like the room in your apartment building where you would find the washing machines, but strangely, it works very well. The Underground has a scuffed, black-painted cement floor and ceiling, with a cement vault as the stage. Next to the vault is the newly glass block-enclosed pool room with a table that leans to the left. The pool room also boasts a Madness concert poster and the same poster of a monkey drinking booze that I observed at Kincade's. The main room features several tables and chairs, and a gigantic "L" shaped, comfortable sofa. The sound man hangs out by the stairs next to the widescreen SignCast TV (usually seen at more cheesy bars like the Gin Mill), and is protected from the crowd by more glass blocks. If you don't like the band or in-between sets, feel free to amuse yourself on the Golden Tee or Centipede machines. The bar itself offers an impressive variety of beers on tap, which are $2 on Thursdays along with $3 martinis on Mondays. The Underground has two one seater bathrooms, of which the men's has a urinal and a pot but is often latched shut when only one person is in there (just like at Ivan's).When bands aren't playing, the Lounge hosts a DJ that hangs out in the glass block-encrusted booth behind the sofa.
The variety of bands that play in the Underground rival that of more popular venues like the Empty Bottle, the Hideout, and Double Door. Each time I have been there, I have seen a different genre of music, including experimental electronics, improvisational urban jazz by D-Settlement (described as "urban collision", similar to Liquid Soul), retro instrumental by Fuzzbuster, and alternative rock by Flammable Dress. Bands start after 10:00 p.m. The room is of pretty good size, so those brave enough to dance will have room enough in front of the stage.
Prior to being Magoo's, the Underground Lounge was called Club Lower Links, Riley's Pub, and bar called Houndstooth. Since then, the Underground has been renovated so that the bar and the stage have switched places. However, the same underground alternative feel featured at Club Lower Links can still be found; a decor that, "suggests Bela Lugosi working out of a resale store," as described in Sweet Home Chicago the Real City Guide (1993).
I recommend descending into the depths of the Underground Lounge between Thursday and Saturday for some beer, live music, and Golden Tee. Well, maybe not the Golden Tee. I've got blisters on my fingers!
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Photograph taken by Carla G. Surratt of Picturing Chicago