In a crowded strip of bars like this one, a bar owner's challenge is to find some way to stand out. On Halsted, from Oakdale down to Fullerton, there's already a Big 10 sports bar (Union), three live music venues (Harrigan's), an Irish pub (Hidden Shamrock), two old-school Chicago taverns (Durkin's, Trinity), and two swanky lounges (Tonic Room, Goodbar) not to mention the two dozen bars that run up and down Lincoln Avenue. Presumably in recognition of this, two former students from Miami University of Ohio going by the names David Halpern and Benjamin Klopp opened aliveOne as the only bar in Chicago to feature a sound systems that only plays live music. All 1,500 tapes and 100 live music CDs in the jukebox compliment the occasional live band along with funky décor, a good selection of brewskies and a laid-back atmosphere. All of this makes aliveOne a top-notch bar and a must on any Halsted pub crawl like the 12 Bars of Christmas.
aliveOne, named after a Phish reference, opened on December 15, 1996, at the corner of Schubert and Halsted. The previous tenant at 2683 North Halsted was the bland Dalmatian Lounge, which featured black & white polka dots, pictures of dogs and an island bar that monopolized the bar's prime schmoozing real estate (I still can't figure out how the Wrightwood Tap gets away with the same thing). Prior to that, this location served as the Split Bar, and gay/lesbian clubs Company (Sukie de la Croix), Harlequins (early 1980s, Harold Meyer), and El Dorado. While its modest façade, housed at the base of a red-brick, three-flat, may not stir the hearts of man, the pulsing music inside will. Step into aliveOne's darkened chamber and you'll find a lively lounge that features a long, dark red wooden bar that runs along the south side of the room that bows out near the end. Behind it, a smattering of lava lamps illuminate a psychedelic American flag that has a barely discernable woman's face in it and her red hair jetting out from it into the ceiling. Just beyond the bar is the men's bathroom and, here's a tip for the guys: it has a urinal even though it looks like there's only space for the can. I was educated on this while waiting in the tiny hallway just outside the johns when a guy came out, gave me an irritated look, and quipped, "You know, it's a two-seater."
Maroon, wood-paneled walls around the room feature frameless photographs of rock stars and concert ads ("Post No Bills" be damned!), between wood and glass cases holding a plethora of CDs and tapes mounted upon them. Within these cases, you'll find bootlegs of an incredible number of performances, which you can request to hear on Wednesday nights. In addition, the jukebox holds such live recording nuggets as Maceo Parker's Life on Planet Groove
, Les Claypool Live
, Violent Femmes' Viva Wisconsin
, Parliament's P Funk Earth Tour
, and Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense
, along with plenty of music from Pearl Jam, Rolling Stones, Black Crows, The Who, Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews, Allman Brothers, David Bowie. aliveOne even hosts pre- and post-concert events featuring music of bands playing in Chicago and listening parties are thrown when new live music is released.
aliveOne is a good bar anytime, but is one of the few place actually hopping on Tuesday nights thanks to $2 drafts. I happily discovered this after seeing a Rusted Root show at Loyola's Gentile Center. We enjoyed several of the 16 beers on tap while I recounted the Cincinnati Debacle, the Post-Fondue Party Box-Out, and the Litter Box Scenario. We then listened to a few gems from a friend of mine that included the time when he went back to a girl's room after a night of boozin' and found his friend getting it on with her roommate in a bed a few feet away and, when his girl rejected his advances, he got up, puked between the two beds and left; and when he was forced into a closet when his roommate brought a girl back to his room and witnessed the ensuing spank-and-shag-fest; and received oral stimulation behind the college bookstore while smoking pot. Lurid, yet somehow intriguing.
This, as we dodged patrons and staff alike as we didn't have a seat and were stuck in the narrow aisle between the bar and the cocktail tables along the north wall. May advice: grab a seat if you can, particularly at one of the few at the windows overlooking Halsted or on the black banquette surrounding the pool table in the northeast corner of the room. Gold-painted, framed mirrors hang along the back wall, on either side of the women's restroom so that you can admire your own billiards shots. Aptly named, "The Back Room" lies through a door in the east wall, next to the Twilight Zone pinball machine and Sgt. Peppers poster. It's rather small but features an adequately-sized bar, beige walls featuring funky local artwork, blue, leopard-print drapes, an intriguing variety of multi-colored, glass, 60's-era, hanging lights, retro gold couches, separate sound system, and another can. And, even though it doesn't look it has the space for it, aliveOne periodically features local bands and records the performance for later play if they're any good. As you might guess, the crowd is a mix of nuevo-hippies, music snobs, and bootleggers looking for a trade. However, in addition, aliveOne is stylish enough to attract the preened masses inhabiting Lincoln Park and Lakeview. The ensuing mix can be entertaining, particularly as girls from either group eye each other in mild reproach.
Even better than the night of stories at aliveOne was the evening I witnessed the triumphant Yankees defeated the lowly, repugnant Mets in the Subway Series of 2000. As magnificent as it was, but I digress... Live music lovers and pub aficionados alike will appreciate this corner bar particularly as the crowd is mellow but cool. In recognition of its efforts, aliveOne came in at #3 in Audience Nominees for Best Jukebox in Citysearch: Chicago's annual poll in 2000, and was also selected as one of five Editorial Nominees. How it didn't come as #1 is a mystery only the editors of Citysearch can explain. Perhaps because aliveOne isn't a gay bar. For more information on aliveOne's Chicago or Cincinnati location or to check out their live MP3 music downloads, check out the aliveOne website. Rock on, baby.
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