Chicago, United States
Smart Bar began in 1982 as a way to bring new and exciting dance music and DJs to Chicago. Since then, Smart Bar has accomplished this goal repeatedly and established itself as one of the country's premier cutting edge nightclubs. At the cusp of a quarter century of bringing new music to Chicago, it's time to take a look back at how we've come so far...
Throwing Parties for Friends: The Beginning of a Dream
Owner Joe Shanahan left his hometown of Chicago for New York City in the early 1980s, intending to explore by immersion the developing art, music and dance culture taking over popular culture. At the conclusion of one year, he returned to Chicago and realized that there wasn't a club that brought together the visual, performing, experimental and fringe arts communities.
Seeking to fill that void, Shanahan drew upon his friends and travel experiences, and began to host parties for the arts and performing community in his loft. Exploiting the camaraderie in the local art community, Shanahan began to combine these DJ-driven parties with local gallery openings and live music venues. Attendance ballooned, and the parties quickly outgrew his loft space.
Finding A Home at 3730 North Clark
A local promoter directed Shanahan to 3730 North Clark Street, the building that would become Smart Bar. Originally built in 1927 as a Swedish Community Center, the building was a jazz/folk club called Stages Music Hall when Shanahan came upon it. Shanahan was enamored with the space, and in July of 1982 opened Smart Bar on the top floor of the building. Eventually, Shanahan moved Smart Bar into the lower level of the building and took over the main floor, opening the live music venue Metro there.
Building From the Foundation Up
Smart Bar became a quick success. Groundbreaking DJs Frankie Knuckles and Joe Smooth would spin regularly while bands like Ministry and Trent Reznor showcased their new "industrial" music by playing tapes of freshly recorded tracks for the crowd. The club brought in DJs from every part of the world, as well as providing a space for local DJs to develop and grow. Smart Bar also developed a symbiotic relationship with Metro, the upstairs live music venue, hosting after party shows and allowing a space for rock and dance fans to mix and explore each other's music, as well as opportunities for DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Fatboy Slim to play the larger room upstairs.
Design and Sound For The Future
In early 2006, Smart Bar re-launched with a new design and new sound system. In collaboration with Joe Shanahan, interior architect Thomas Shoner designed Smart Bar's new interior design and layout which boasted more seating, dynamic colors, and a full wall mural showcasing the work of local artists. Smart Bar tapped Funktion One, the UK audio company responsible for legendary night club systems across the globe, to power the new dance floor.
To Be Continued...
In 2007, Metro and Smart Bar will celebrate 25 years of showcasing new and developing local artists, cutting edge DJs and new genres of music. With continued accolades year after year -- most recently including AOL Cityguide's Best Dance Club and the 2006 Club World Awards Nightstalker Award for Best Underground Club -- Smart Bar has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.