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Underground Wonder Bar: The Song Remains The Same

December 16, 2011 2:00 PM

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Lonie Walker behind the piano at Underground Wonder Bar (credit: Thomas Boston)

Lonie Walker behind the piano at Underground Wonder Bar (credit: Thomas Boston)

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Lonie Walker behind the piano at Underground Wonder Bar (credit: Underground Wonder Bar)

Underground Wonder Bar Grand Re-Opening

710 N. Clark St.
Chicago, Il
(312) 266-7761

December 18th, 4 P.M.-4 A.M.
CBS Event Page

Chicago is a city where neighborhoods can change in the blink of an eye. All I have to do to be reminded of this is look at the Wicker Park/Bucktown/Logan Square neighborhoods my family is from and it’s readily apparent to me. I’m not here to decide whether this change is good or bad, not now at least. Rather, I want to point out something that hasn’t changed.

The Underground Wonder Bar entertained customers for twenty-one-years before being destroyed for urban renewal last year. It’s back in a new River North location though and, despite a move, it’s holding up the same torch it’s always championed: a great, late night piano bar with good music and good people. Why not celebrate their grand re-opening this Sunday, December 18th?

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Lonie and her boys (credit: Thomas Boston)

Underground Wonder Bar has been holding up a tradition of blues, jazz and rock & roll that is older than their twenty-one-year existence. Their old space on Walton, essentially a hole in the ground (hence the name) seemed resistant to age and time; never losing the feel of the hip, classy, jazzy piano bar in spite of a city changing, gentrifying, and a ban on smoking. To clarify that last bit, I don’t smoke. Smoking is icky. The image of the 40s piano bar, jam-packed with patrons in fedoras and scandalous dresses, a man at the piano, a femme fatale sitting on the piano, wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t covered in a thick layer of smoke though. And that’s what Underground Wonder Bar on Walton was: that picture perfect interpretation of everything good musically from the past. Except, after the smoking ban, the hazy mist in the air wasn’t from cigarettes, but magic. Yes, magic.

I don’t know. It makes sense to me. Magical smoke. Deal with it.

And that femme fatale? That’s Lonie Walker. Instead of sitting on the piano and singing delicately in a sultry voice, she’s sitting behind the piano belting out blues and jazz in a way that rocks. She isn’t just some floozy or eye candy, she’s the main attraction, and she’s badass. As owner and key performer of the Underground Wonder Bar, it is her insane energy—and it is a little insane, but in a good way–that has held the whole shebang together. It’s Lonie who is keeping this tradition of a dying Chicago music aesthetic alive. It was Lonie who, after finding out she was going to lose her bar, decided to keep fighting, and make sure it found a new home.

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Lonie Walker & Her Big Bad Ass Company Band (credit: Thomas Boston)

So, for Lonie, you should check out the new location of the Underground Wonder Bar at 710 Clark St. this Sunday. They’re doing their grand re-opening in style with twelve straight hours of music, from 4 P.M. to 4 A.M. Not only will the grand re-opening feature Lonie Walker & Her Big Bad Ass Company Band, but you’ll also see the likes of the Hurricane Reggae Band, the Lorna Boston Band, Anthony Milano, Taggart Transcontinental, Macie Stewart, and many, many more.

So go. Take a friend. See music and a scene that has endured the test of time and carved itself a nice, thick scar in a city full of ‘em. One Sunday to experience something you can’t find anywhere else is a small price to pay.

Trust me.

What places in Chicago do you feel hold up the tradition of this great city? Tell me about ‘em in the comment section or at mason.johnson@cbsradio.com.
Mason Johnson, CBS Chicago
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