Photo by Joshua Mellin | www.joshuamellin.com
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In May 2018, Sterling Bay development corporation announced a bold plan for redeveloping a derelict industrial site in Chicago in a wedge of land between the Wicker Park, Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. The project, Lincoln Yards, would cost $6 billion and feature a payment of about $1 billion to developers from the City of Chicago through a controversial program called tax increment financing (TIF).
It would also directly threaten a beloved local music venue, the Hideout, which stands in the lee of several proposed skyscrapers. A proposed array of Live Nation-partnered concert spaces within the new development could also cause local music venues to close.
Public opposition has been rapid, widespread, and multifaceted. In the midst of the fight are the Hideout owners, embracing a new role as political organizers.
It’s just the latest chapter in the bar’s unusually lengthy, vivid, and intensely felt history—one that the owners, employees, performers, officials, and others were happy to share at length. From humble beginnings to current existential threat, this is an oral history of the Hideout.
In 1881, the house that will become the Hideout is built at 1354 West Wabansia Avenue.
Tim Samuelson, cultural historian for the City of Chicago: In the early days of Chicago, and we’re talking about the 1850s, the 1860s, [this] was an area that was sparsely settled, and what did settle there, because of the [Chicago] River location, was heavy industry. … The businesses were steel, there were smelting plants … There are were people attracted to [living in] the area because they worked at the factories, and they didn’t make a lot of money, so these were very modest houses, and Wabansia Avenue, where the Hideout is, was lined with inexpensive wood houses.
Tim Tuten, Hideout owner: This whole massive building right here [near the Hideout] that was just torn down was United States Steel. And before that it was American Iron, and American Iron was the company that made steel rails that crossed the United States and the [transcontinental railway]. Probably, the rails from that factory were the ones that were used in the 1800s to build a railroad across America.
Samuelson: Anastasia Meaney settled in that area in the 1870s. She was an Irish immigrant, and she was successful enough that she was able to build her own boarding house, which is the building that is now the Hideout.
Tim Tuten: It matters to us that it was handmade.
In 1901, A. Finkl and Sons Steel Company opens industrial buildings on 22 acres directly adjacent to the Hideout; additional factories start or continue operating nearby. The neighborhood slowly loses its residential character.
Samuelson: The industry wound up slowly swallowing up these wood houses. … By 1914, the buildings on the opposite side of Wabansia were totally gone. But you still had on the side between Elston and the Hideout, you still had 14 wooden cottages, side by side. … [Anastasia Meaney] died in 1916. Her wake was in the building, as you would do. Had a nice Irish wake on Wabansia Street. And the family continued to own the building. … Finally, in the early 1920s, the Meaney family sold the building.
The new owners occupy the house until 1947. It is among the last such buildings on the street; industry still dominates the area. The Favia family buys it with a new purpose in mind.
Samuelson: If you look at the map in the 1950s, all the cottages are gone except for two, and one of those is the Hideout.
Tim Tuten: This area was the original steel works of Chicago, before World War II. Finkl Steel was right over here. Simpson Steel was right across the street from us. That group of buildings over there: Safran Metal, Sipi Metals.
Samuelson: I think the real transformative part of the building comes in 1947, when the building is acquired by Angelo and Mary Favia. And they are the ones who seem to be the first ones to operate it as a tavern.
Tim Tuten: In 1954, the back room grew. They [the Favias] literally were married, and they took all the money they got, and they built the back room.
Samuelson: You do not see it ever listed in the telephone book. And I read for years — and believe me, there’s a lot of taverns — looking for that address, and it is not there. And because it had its own built-in clientele of people who worked in the area, they just didn’t need to advertise, and probably they just didn’t care. … And Favia, he had a name for it; in the beginning, it was two words: Hide Out. And it kind of developed a following; it kind of became like an exclusive little club of the regulars. After work, you could get away. Nobody could find you. Your wife is trying to find where you’re at? There’s not even a telephone listing.
In the 1970s, a man named Tom Nicholson begins frequenting the Hideout.
Katie Tuten, Hideout owner: My father was a quote-unquote regular here, meaning he probably came here once a month.
The Hideout's Wall of Fame. (Photo by Romeo Banias)
Samuelson: I think what really wound up changing its identity was one of the regulars was somebody who dealt in crushed gravel for construction. His name was Tom Nicholson. And he would go there and meet his buddies and whatnot, and his daughter Katie knew he was going to this place and she was curious — you know, what is this? And he wouldn’t say. It was a secret. So, Katie really was curious.
Katie Tuten: That was kind of the whole — what would you say? — the mystification of the Hideout, the mystery of it. Tim [Tuten] and I were dating at the time, and we’d drive all around and try to find it.
Meanwhile, Chicago begins a shift away from industrialism that affects much of the city, including the industry near the Hideout. As factories move away, politicians pass tax increment financing (TIF) laws to help redevelop vacant areas.
Rachel Weber, professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago: TIFs are municipal and economic development financing tools that they use to try to encourage the development of urban space.
David Merriman, professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago: [A TIF designation] takes property tax revenue that comes about as a result of increasing the assessed values of a particular area, and it takes that [added] property tax value, which we call the increment, and it designates the money to go back into that area and to develop [it]. TIFs started more than 50 years ago in California, and they were originally used as a way to remediate blight, particularly in urban areas.
Weber: The enabling legislation was passed by the general assembly in 1977, and so TIFs took root at a time when not just the city of Chicago but basically much of the state of Illinois was hemorrhaging industrial businesses to other states, mainly to the South, and then abroad. … The loss of manufacturing jobs was what motivated the adoption of TIF.
Tim Tuten: By 1979, US Steel closed down. Finkl Steel was still [operating]. The blast furnace was burning¸ and everything was rolling over there.
Around 1985, Katie and Tim become regulars at the Hideout themselves.
Katie Tuten: So, eventually my dad felt sorry for us, and he gave us boundaries. Once he gave us the boundaries, we were able to find it [in 1985 or 1986]. And I walked in and sitting at the bar was one of my dad’s friends, and so I picked up the payphone, and I called my dad and said, “Dad, guess where I am?” and he said, “Where?” and I was like, “The Hideout,” and he said, “Ohhhhh, no.”
Samuelson: I think he was partly amused, but also miffed.
Katie Tuten: So, then, we would come here, what do you think, Tim? Twice a year, three times a year? … We’d come by and have a drink.
In the mid-1990s, after a decade as regulars, the Favias offer to sell the Tutens the bar.
Katie Tuten: Tim would say, “You know, if I owned this bar, I would do A, B, C…”
Samuelson: Then Favia dies in 1994, and the family continues to operate the bar, and they don’t particularly want to keep it going.
Katie Tuten: [Family member Eleanor Favia] said [to Tim], “OK, Mr. Big Stuff … You want to buy the bar?” And we were like, “Oh, dang.” And we had been talking about it with Tim’s grade-school friends, the twins, Mike and Jim Hinchsliff. It seemed like a really fun idea.
In 1996, the four officially become the bar’s new owners.
Tim Tuten: There were some guys [working in nearby plants] … they came in and were like, “Now that you guys own the bar, are you going to kick us out? Because you’re yuppies.” And we were like, “No, the opposite, we love having you here.” … All we said was, everything stays the same, but we’re going to stay open later and add music.
Katie Tuten: We did not list the Hideout anywhere in the phone book, because we thought it was funny.
Tim Tuten: We had no money, and back in those days, in the ‘90s, no internet. So, you would put an ad in the Reader or New City, but we didn’t even have money for that. … I would go see the Waco Brothers and Jon Langford, and we’d literally say to them, “Would you come and see our bar?”
Jon Langford, musician: [In 1996 or 1997,] they were kind of stalking me around South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas. They told me that they had this new bar and we should really play it.
Andrew Bird (center, with violin) is one of the many independent musicians who return to The Hideout time and again. (Photo by Joshua Mellin | www.joshuamellin.com)
Andrew Bird, musician: I first met Katie in Austin, back when we were down at South by [Southwest], like in 1997, 1998, and they were just getting started, and they asked me to play there. It quickly became our, you know, central [location], for me and my band.
Quickly, the Hideout becomes notable for the way it treats its patrons, staff, and performers.
Katie Tuten: We were always very respectful. When we bought the bar, the daytime bartender came with the sale, so to speak. His name was Sam. He continued to work here.
Tim Tuten: He had been here for 22 years, right? He had been a bartender through the ‘80s and ‘90s. And he stayed until he passed away. Well, he got older and had to live in senior housing and stuff.
Katie Tuten: And our partner, Mike, he did all his [Sam’s] grocery shopping. We all looked after him.
Bird: For a while, when I didn’t have anywhere to stay, I stayed upstairs there, locked in, which is totally illegal. It was just me and Sundial the cat, alone. So, yeah, it was a clubhouse for me.
Langford: People like Katie and Tim Tuten and the twins at the Hideout, they just supported me in strange projects. … They provided a venue for me to do a lot of things that were really interesting, but that maybe weren’t commercial or mainstream.
Martha Bayne, journalist, former Hideout employee: I worked there from 2008 to 2016 as a bartender. … It was a great job because I made really great friends there … and I got very, very lucky. Finding people who were like that was a very great thing.
After a few years, the venue begins to offer comedy.
Katie Tuten: Kind of by accident, we had a comedian. And the comic world is very small. So, they kind of talked to each other and [said,] “Oh, this is a great room.” And we realized it is a really wonderful room for comics to try out new bits, so that’s why Aziz Ansari, and Amy Schumer, and then other up-and-coming [comics came].
Cameron Esposito, comedian and actress: When I moved back to Chicago from Boston in 2006, it was one of the best, if not the best, performance venues. [I was] working with lots of visiting LA and NY comics during those shows, and it was an early way to connect outside Chicago.
Gradually, the bar adds other content, including storytelling and political organizing, while remaining a favorite of prominent musicians.
Katie Tuten: As the market became more crowded for rock bands, we were like, OK, we need to do different things. … It keeps changing.
Abraham Levitan, musician and live game show cohost: I’ve periodically gone into the improvised song kind of world, where there is some action on a stage, and I will respond to it in song form. … Shame That Tune was a show [at the Hideout from 2010 to 2015] where contestants would come up and read an embarrassing story from their past … [and] they would spin a wheel with a bunch of songs [titles written] on it, many of which were like terrible, guilty-pleasure, ‘80s and ‘90s songs, and depending on where the wheel landed, that was the melody they were going to get for the summary of their story that I would play when they were done. …The audience would vote by applause on who had most thoroughly shamed themselves with their story. …The grand prize was always two free tickets to a Hideout show of their choice. Hideout generosity strikes again.
Erika Wozniak Francis, Girl Talk producer and cohost and current candidate for alderman: The Girl Talk is a monthly talk show that started in April of 2016 that features women in leadership in Chicago. We started [and have continued] it at the Hideout, and it was the brainchild of me and my coproducer, Joanna Klonsky. I was on another great monthly talk show at the Hideout called First Tuesdays with [Chicago Reader journalists] Mick [Dumke] and Ben [Joravsky]. … We said, “Hey! Why is it mostly men on these programs usually? We should have a show for women.” And Tim Tuten said, “Well, why don’t you do it? You’re both powerful women in Chicago,” and we kind of laughed and said, “Okay, we’re going to.” … We’ve used it as an organizing space.
Langford: [In 2013] We did a band with the Mekons and Freakwater joined together as the Freak-ons. [The Hideout] was the obvious place to do it. And we got a mobile truck in and recorded it. It was really nice. It was all sold out. It was a very relaxed place where we knew we could make a recording that we would want to put out.
Tim Tuten: [In December 2018], Jeff Tweedy did a CD release party. He could have done it in a thousand-capacity club, but he decided to do it here and then do it on Facebook Live.
Bird: Every time I come to Chicago, I’ll add a Hideout show. … We did a Bowl of Fire reunion [in 2017], which was a lot of fun.
Community members develop deep personal connections to the bar, often celebrating life milestones there.
Levitan: I met my wife at the Hideout many years ago. And when my wife and I were getting engaged, we kind of did a scavenger hunt-style recreation of various places around the city that were important to us. And when we got to the Hideout, Tim had agreed to completely restage the moment that we met. He was, like, in a full tuxedo. He took this acting role very seriously. And he created this whole moment that was completely ridiculous, but it just showed a lot of love, that he would take the time to participate in that.
Esposito: I got married at the Hideout [in 2015]. Perfect wedding, perfect wedding venue. They gave us a great deal.
Tim Tuten: When we talk about Abraham’s being engaged here, and Cameron and Rhea [Butcher] having their marriage ceremony here, actually, that’s what our dream of the Hideout was.
In 2013, the last steel mill in the area, Finkl Steel, shuts down its site near the Hideout; other mills have already been repurposed. Soon, the City redistricts the area. Because local aldermen have considerable control over development in their wards, a long-anticipated redevelopment begins to seem likely.
Samuelson: There’s still heavy industries around there [into the 1990s and 2000s], but the old steel mill becomes a city service garage [the Department of Fleet Management] where they park automobiles, and the place across the way, where the old steel mill was, stored garbage trucks.
Katie Tuten: So, since the day we bought the Hideout, they’ve been talking about selling the city property. Every year, they’re like, “Ah, you hear Fleet Management is up for sale?” Yeah, we hear it every year.
The Hideout has built a fiercely loyal following. The club's website calls it, “the old restless roots of hard-working, hard-playing creative artistic expression and intellectual freedom.” (Photo courtesy of Martha Bayne)
Merriman: When you look at the site [of pending development], it’s very logical that that site could be used in a much better way than it’s being used now. A lot of the site is decrepit and vacant, and it’s close to downtown, it’s close to all kinds of other development.
Katie Tuten: We became really aware when they redistricted our ward. We’re politically astute to know what they were up to. We knew it was just a matter of time. But we had no idea what it is they are going to do.
Scott Waguespack, 43rd ward alderman: I used to have the whole area … before they mapped me out of there.
From 2015 to 2018, development corporation Sterling Bay acquires the former Finkl Steel site and a nearby plot from the City, which moves Fleet Management in 2017. Sterling Bay works with local alderman Brian Hopkins to secure city approvals and propose designating the area a TIF zone. The company also patronizes
the law firm of attorney Ed Burke, also a Chicago alderman, for tax dealings related to Lincoln Yards.
Weber: [TIFs had] sort of morphed over time into an all-purpose redevelopment tool, where the focus was not necessarily jobs and employment, but more real estate and property development.
Merriman: The TIF district is generally designed to benefit one or a small very number of companies, and it seems like almost public policy being made by private entities, to say “If you create a TIF district, we’ll come in.” But it’s very much being directed by private entities.
Waguespack: This [is a] $1.2 billion-dollar TIF that is the largest in the United States, and it’s unprecedented.
In May 2018, the proposal for the Sterling Bay development becomes public. It includes a dense district of skyscrapers, multiple music venues, a soccer stadium, and an exclusive deal with the multinational concert promoter Live Nation. The area’s new name is Lincoln Yards.
Katie Tuten: In May 2018, we received notification, some sort of press release, saying that Live Nation had an exclusive deal with Sterling Bay. That was the initial thing that really activated us.
Tim Tuten: It wasn’t until June, [at] the public announcement at the grade school, when Sterling Bay said, “This is what we’re talking about.” I was in the room when they said, “We’re requesting 800 feet.” You’re not just building a stadium and some restaurants, you’re building skyscrapers. … I never expected that they would have skyscrapers. And that is what has hurt through these last few months.
Weber: It does seem that the public and even existing business owners and the owners of the Hideout only really found out about this plan last summer, even though it’s been in the works since Sterling Bay purchased the Finkl site.
Public misgivings quickly become clear.
Merriman: Lincoln Yards is a story that is very familiar, this kind of TIF area: a very, very large project by one developer, really, and much of it arranged sort of out of the view of the general public. And it’s met a lot of community resistance, partly for reasons that it wasn’t in the character of the neighborhood, and that’s understandable.
Wozniak Francis: I think, with the Lincoln Yards, it’s a gross misuse of our tax dollars.
Langford: They’re going to use taxpayer money, TIF money, which should be used to help people in this brutally segregated city. There’s such disparity in wealth. That money should be used to help people with the least, but it’s just basically a handout to a corporate developer.
Bird: I just think the most alarming thing about it is that the people who built that community that is so strong and healthy have no voice in how that area is developed.
On November 15, a public hearing on the Lincoln Yard proposal draws more than 100 locals who oppose the plan. Alderman Brian Hopkins offers landmark status to the bar.
Langford: I’ve been to some of the meetings. I’ve looked at the plans: the architectural renderings of multiracial families going canoeing on the local river, kayaking, and the fantastic wildlife that’s going to be there. I don’t know. I have one complaint, that they feel they can create the culture, they think they can create something from the top down, and these developers, I don’t think they understand how culture works, how delicate it is, and how it’s based on a network of people cooperating and having an idea and seeing it through.
Bird: The developers say they understand, you know, that it’s launched the careers of notable artists. But that’s really not what it’s about, you know. It’s about community. It’s not about getting ahead.
On November 28, music venue owners announce a coalition, Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL), with the aim of protesting Live Nation exclusivity and the resulting threat to music venues in the city.
Robert Gomez, owner of local bar Subterranean, CIVL representative: Our main focus … is to just be part of the dialogue. None of that has ever happened, and we’d like to see that change. What woke us up was the announcement that Live Nation made back in May, telling the world that they would have 5 music venues, 3 to 5 music venues, for 6000 people in Lincoln Yards. We were like, “Whoa!” … It would just crush the venues. … We cannot compete with Live Nation.
Waguespack: I think that the original plan and the process was definitely putting the Hideout in a spot where they would potentially get knocked out [of business]. If Live Nation had the contract, they would have been knocked out in short order.
On January 4, 2019, Alderman Ed Burke, chair of the city’s zoning committee, receives federal charges of corruption for attempted extortion. Another alderman, Danny Solis, chair of the city’s finance committee, is soon implicated in the corruption. Meanwhile, a mayoral and city council election is pending, with current mayor Rahm Emanuel not seeking reelection.
Waguespack: We’ve got a corruption scandal in the finance and zoning committees against Burke and Solis, and both of those committees have a stake in this process, and it has financial implications for taxpayers. So, between the substantive issues about process and all the things about [Lincoln Yards’] density and height, affordable housing, the stakes are too high, and we have to get it right, and therefore we should delay [city approvals] until it can actually be vetted by a new mayor and a new council instead of a mayor running out the door.
On January 8, Alderman Hopkins officially rejects the stadium and large music venue components of Lincoln Yards, promising private parks and a “smattering” of venues instead. Accordingly, Live Nation’s involvement might be terminated. He cites a survey of residents who rejected the stadium; Sterling Bay says they’ll rework their plan.
Gomez: I believe they did a study on the traffic [the stadium would create], and it was just impossible to support.
Waguespack: There’s no guarantee that Live Nation still can’t come in or that they can’t go with some other mega music group. … If they move in a major entertainment center, and they move in a 100-, 250-, 500-, [and] 1000-[seat venues] and a stadium over there, they can capture any size of concert, and that really hurts all the musical locations. … We have to watch that very closely to see what kinds of deals are cut. And that’s why we are extremely concerned about it.
On January 17, Sterling Bay publicly dissociates themselves from Alderman Burke, whose law firm had been engaged in tax dealings for the corporation, including deals with respect to the Lincoln Yards site. On January 19, they announce a new plan without the stadium and venues, but with more housing units. On January 24, they move forward with a project approval hearing with the City’s Plan Commission.
Katie Tuten: So, what one of our objections has been and will always be is, really? We haven’t had time to really review this.
Merriman: The plans for the TIFs tend to get made sort of in secret and with a very small group of public officials being involved, and public participation isn’t allowed until the plan is almost fully formed, at which point it becomes very difficult to sort of pick out alternative routes and alternative kinds of ways that a site might be developed.
Katie Tuten: Everyone is like, “Oh, yay, the soccer stadium is gone.” But look closer. There are two huge private parks, one of which has an amphitheater, and if you look in the proposal, they say there will be festivals. Instead of … one concentrated area, instead, they’re scattered throughout the site and in 10,000 capacity. So, did we win anything? Not really.
Gomez: Look at how they responded [to the resident survey]. Are they listening to constituents? Which constituents said they wanted more condos? “No, no, 5,000? We want 6,000 units!” It’s laughable. …They’re not listening to anyone.
Waguespack: There’s no clarity as to what is actually prioritized and what is getting built and what is actually necessary for the entire north side here as opposed to what’s wanted by the developers. … It is completely developer-driven, and everyone in city hall knows that, but we forged ahead anyway.
“They feel they can create the culture, they think they can create something from the top down. And these developers, I don’t think they understand how culture works, how delicate it is, and how it’s based on a network of people cooperating and having an idea and seeing it through.”
The Plan Commission voted 10 to 0 to approve the plan, with 1 abstaining, after a five-and-a-half-hour meeting attended by so many citizens that the auditorium-sized meeting hall was standing room only.
Waguespack: I think the first thing I might have said was, “I know you’re all going to vote for this today, but at least listen to what we have to say.” Which, you know, they did. Everyone on the Plan Commission is appointed by the mayor, so they’re not going to oppose him in any way.
Katie Tuten: Even though we lost that vote, it was so uplifting to me that so many people came out there. They had to take days off work and get a babysitter, and none of the folks who came out were paid to be there. The only people there to support it were contractors hoping to get a job.
While the Plan Commission vote was a key step for Lincoln Yards, final approval hasn’t been rendered yet — slowed down in part by the still-unfolding corruption scandals and pending local election.
Katie Tuten: The mechanics of it is, it has to go before the Zoning Committee, which as you know, the chair of the Zoning Committee [Alderman Solis] might be resigning. [He has now resigned as chair.] And it has to go before the Finance Committee, and as you know, Alderman Burke is no longer head of the Finance Committee.
Bayne: Not to be really cynical, but all this stuff with city council and Ed Burke and everything else, I feel like, this story is just starting to unravel, and I’m very curious to see what happens.
Gomez: I think the challenge is actually more on Sterling Bay than it is on us, with Alderman [James] Cappleman changing his position. Cappleman is now the chair of Zoning. Cappleman has taken it off the agenda until they revise their plan and until the community can have more input. … This is on delay until a new administration comes in.
What remains at stake, of course, isn’t a business, but an entire community.
Samuelson: The Hideout in all its incarnations and owners has adapted to the area. But I do worry about the Hideout. It breaks my heart. I miss the garbage trucks (laughs). It was a wonderful thing to discover this little treasure. And I worry about seeing that change. The most important part of the place is the intangibles, and that is what is really vulnerable in a place like that. The intangibles of the people who are there, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the sharing of a place — it’s a public place, but it’s everyone’s personal place — that is really rare.
Wozniak Francis: It would be a devastating loss to Chicago if anything happens to the Hideout.
Esposito: Preserving venues like the Hideout … should be a dang priority. If Chicago isn’t venues like the Hideout, then what is it?
Nonetheless, the future is unwritten.
Weber: It still remains to be seen in this project is going to get up and running and how long it will take for that to happen. It might take years for this massive project to get off the ground.
Katie Tuten: So, where do we go from here? We just keep at it.
Gomez: We have the city’s attention, all the way up to the mayor, who has asked to meet with us.
Katie Tuten: I’m trying to channel Jane Jacobs.
Sterling Bay declined and Live Nation and alderman Brian Hopkins did not respond to requests for interviews for this article.
UPDATE: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Alderman Ed Burke and his law firm had worked to secure the TIF designation for Lincoln Yards. Alderman Burke’s law firm, Klafter & Burke, represented Sterling Bay only to file property-tax appeals on real estate holdings, including some vacant land that’s part of the proposed Lincoln Yards development. We have changed the text to reflect this.
This article is part of “For Whom, By Whom,” a series of articles about how creative placemaking can expand opportunities for low-income people living in disinvested communities. This series is generously underwritten by the Kresge Foundation.
M. Sophia Newman is a freelance writer and an editor with a substantial background in global health and health research. She wrote Next City's Health Horizons column from 2015 to 2016 and has reported from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, and the United States on a wide range of topics. See more at msophianewman.com.
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