From the monthly archives: "June 2014"
The World's Largest Drive-In Loew's M & R Loew's Double Drive-In. Opened in 1950 and closed in the mid- 90s. It was at 2800 W. Columbus near Marquette Park  in Chicago. The drive-in had three screens and  could accommodate 1,800 cars. (Photo by Jim Indreika, Courtesy of Theater Historical Society of America)

The World’s Largest Drive-In 
M & R Loew’s Double Drive-In. Opened in 1950 and closed in the mid- 90s. It was at 2800 W. Columbus near Marquette Park in Chicago. The drive-in had three screens and could accommodate 1,800 cars. (Photo by Jim Indreika, Courtesy of Theater Historical Society of America)

One good thing about Jimmy Buffett’s “Drive-Ins Nationwide” concert is how much easier it will be to get in and out of the parking lot than at Alpine Valley, Wis. or the First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre in Tinley Park, Ill.

Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band appear at 8:45  p.m. (CST) June 19 at the Coyote Drive-In at Panther Island in Fort Worth, Tx. The concert will be broadcast live to 87 drive-ins across America. It is also a test run for the new Margaritaville TV  station Buffett launched a couple of weeks ago. He may plug the station tonight on television with Jimmy Fallon.

No music act has ever synched up a concert with drive-ins.

Not even the Cars.

The closest Buffett concert venue to Chicago is the beautiful 49er Drive-In, 675 N. Calumet in Valparaiso, Ind. The ‘49er was built in 1956 and has nearly 600 parking spots.

Beginning at 4 p.m. June 19, those 21 and older can enjoy food, drinks and the live Island 49 band play from 5 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the ’49er.  Tickets are $18 each and can be purchased by visiting Live at the Drive-In.

I’m for anything that brings attention to the plight of the American drive-in. And with so many people talking at concerts these days, here’s a concert where you can gab loudly in the privacy of your own car.

In his 1973  hit “Grapefruit/Juicy Fruit” Buffett sings: “Grapefruit, a bathin’ suit, chew a little juicy fruit/ Wash away the night. Drive in, you guzzle gin, commit a little mortal sin/ It’s good for the soul.”

That song was inspired by the Islander Drive-In on Stock Island, adjacent to Key West, Fla. The Islander opened in 1953 and closed in 1984.

Jimmy Buffett during his drive-in days.

Jimmy Buffett during his drive-in days.

According to his live album “You Had To Be There,” Buffett took a date to see the 1972 Rip Torn movie “Payday” (about a country singer who tours around the country in a Cadillac that amplifies his tendency for extreme behavior), where they mixed up cheap Gilbey’s Gin with Welch’s Grape Juice to create Purple Passions, and then “had a good go at it.”

Music on the film was provided by Ian and Sylvia Tyson as well as late Key West/Chicago resident Shel Silverstein.

The drive-in theater debuted in 1933 when tinkering chemist Richard Hollingshead erected a 30-by-40-foot screen behind his shop in Camden, N.J. The Chicago area’s first drive-theater was built in 1941 in Morton Grove.

By the late 1950s more than 4,000 drive-in movies were part of America’s landscape.

Today there are less than 350 drive-in movie theaters.

The drive-in theater took on television, VCR’s and DVD’s, but the death knell came as movie distributors transitioned  from 35 mm to digital film. Many operators cannot afford the conversion which can cost between $80,000 and $100,000.

Proceeds from the Buffett concert will be used to help drive-in theaters make the change.

I have a place in my heart for the Theater Historical Society of America in Elmhurst, Ill.

I grew up in the long shadow of the Skylark Drive-In on the border of Aurora and Naperville, Ill. The Skylark opened in 1962 as the wonderfully-named Tee & See because it was adjacent to a golf course.

As the Skylark in the mid-1970s I remember watching mainstream porn while drinking Sloe Gin Fizz’s in Row 5. Ironically, I would see half of the varsity golf team in Row 5. The Skylark closed in 1987.

What happened to the Skylark happened to many drive-in theaters. The land value became too much to support the theater. Unbeknownst to me, in May of 1988  my father wandered around the weedy parking lot to take pictures (the dates are marked on the back of the photos) and to salvage a couple of drive-in car speakers.

That is the curator in his soul.

Those Skylark car speakers are now in the Theater Historical Society of America museum. The museum also has drive-in signage, drive-in movie blueprints and digital copies of intermission drive-in reels.

“Drive-ins are getting even closer to extinction,” Richard Fosbrink, Theatre Historical Society Executive Director told me on Monday. “The studios are stopping all print releases very soon. If people have not converted to digital now, they won’t be able to. Converting to digital was a cost saving measure for the film studios. It is much easier for them to ship a plastic box with a digital hard drive than an actual film print. And then there’s the decaying issue with film. When drive-ins closed at the end of last season many have not reopened in the last six weeks.”

Last year Honda launched Project Drive-In, which awarded nine digital projectors to vintage drive-ins based on over 2 million votes. Drive-in lovers Maroon 5 contributed an autographed license plate as part of the fund raising drive.

Visit Project Drive-In to see the interactive map of drive-ins across the country.

To make a real event out of the Buffett concert, fans can also trek to the Midway Drive-In in Dixon, Ill. or the Field of Scenes in Freedom, Wis. And should you miss the Buffett show, America’s greatest rock n’ roll band NRBQ with Chicagoans Scott Ligon and  Casey McDonough will be at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn  at 9 p.m. June 21.

No one has recorded a better drive-in song than NRBQ’s 1983 pop hit “Rain at the Drive-In.”

Find your partner on South Oakley Street. That’s my pal Jack D’Amico on vocals (Photos by Lou Bilotti)

Like a locket that hangs close to your heart, the Oakley Festa Pasta Vino Italian Festival  is timeless.

And it swings, too!

Taste of Oakley, as it is more commonly known, is my favorite summer Chicago neighborhood festival. It takes place Father’s Day weekend along the overlooked enclave of Oakley Avenue and 24th Street and incorporates superb family run restaurants like Bruna’s Ristorante, 2424 S. Oakley and La Fontanella, 2414 S. Oakley, a favorite of the late great Chicago Sun-Times food critic Pat Bruno.

There is zero hipster factor at Taste of Oakley. People are wearing black, sure, but it is all in their hair. The tradeoff is families enjoying Italian Ice and ravioli on humble city stoops. Bookings include Frank Sinatra impersonator Jack D’Amico, who appears with a trio in a salute to Tony Bennett (7 p.m. June 13) and festival organizer Ron Onesti hosting a tribute to the late crooner Jerry Vale with Johnny Maggio and Jack Miucccio and Vale video clips (7:45 p.m. June 13 on the main stage.) Vale was the first singer to have a song inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame with his 1963 recording of  “The Star-Spangled Banner” that was played at Yankee Stadium.

At the trendiest Chicago festivals you will hear the Beastie Boys.

Expect lots of Jersey Boys at Taste of Oakley.

The long standing storefront restaurants and twinkling Italian lights of the Oakley neighborhood remind me of Arthur Avenue in the Little Italy section of the Bronx, N.Y.

It reminds Onesti of something much deeper.

Onesti grew up on Taylor Street, about 14 blocks north of Oakley.

His late father Alberto was a World War II veteran and a custom tailor at his father’s tailor shop, 1020 S. Western at Taylor. Onesti, 52, began his life in the same building where his father was born. His mother Gabriella is from Florence and Alberto was from Salerno near Naples, Italy. Alberto met Gabriella in Florence during World War II.

Ron Onesti

Ron Onesti

“My wife is from the Oakley neighborhood,” Onetsi said in a recent phone interview. “When I was in high school I came across that neighborhood…..

“Hello father…”

Onesti was talking while donating food to the Our Lady of Mt. Caramel Church in Melrose Park and Father Feccia of the Italian Cultural Center walked by.

Onesti stopped to spread the good word and continued, “In high school I took about 9 girls from Oakley Street to proms and dances. I happened upon those restaurants. About 10 years after that the neighborhood was going down and they wanted to establish a festival. I had been doing Italian festivals since I was 17 years old at Navy Pier and other places. The people on Oakley asked me to help them. And now this is the 24th year.”

The neighborhood is called “The Heart of Italy in the Heart of Chicago” and Bruna’s is the oldest restaurant on the strip. Bruna Cani opened the restaurant in 1933 and still features original oil-painted murals.

This weekend stop by the La Fontanella booth where owner-chef Franco Gamberale will be cheerfully dishing out arancini (rice balls), stuffed arthichokes, beef and grilled sausages.

Somehow I don’t see Grant Achatz doing this on a Saturday night in Chicago.

“The festival brings new blood to the area,” Gamberale said on Wednesday afternoon. “Otherwise people have no idea where we are at. It’s like a little island. Most of the old timers have moved out or died out. How are we going to replace them? At one time you couldn’t walk down the sidewalks of this neighborhood, but that was before the corporate honchos like Mia Franchesa and Rosebud. We don’t use steam tables. We don’t use deep fryers. We still cook the old fashioned way, everything fresh. We don’t have a frozen truck delivering anything here.”

Gamberale and his wife-chef Maria have owned La Fontanella for 28 years. The restaurant opened in 1971.


Onesti said,  “It is a rare situation of the locals maintaining their ground. The (half-dozen) restaurants hanging around have a lot to do with it hanging in there. For the most part everybody who owns those restaurants lives there.”

About 20,000 people attend the three-day festival, which always concludes on Father’s Day with a special mass. (Suggested donation is $7)

“I try real hard to avoid the hipster thing,” Onesti said. “I didn’t create the feel of that neighborhood. That feel is there. I’m very specific on the vendors who come in. It’s all Italian style, but it is real good stuff–if you like that stuff.

“Being Italian-American in Chicago, the word ‘neighborhood’ is almost as close to the word ‘church’ Growing up, within walking distance of our block there was the butcher shop, the candy store, the pharmacy. Dante Peluso was the guy who owned Peruso’s Hardware Store. Bobby Botelli was ‘Bobby the Grocery Store.’ Cam’s was the restaurant on the corner, the guys from Superior Bakery at Western and Taylor. It’s always been about neighborhoods, unlocked doors and no T.V. People were out. People shared.”


These days the President of Onesti Entertainment is best known as the owner of the beautiful 900-seat Arcada Theatre in west suburban St. Charles. The Arcada is to Cialis what metal was to the Congress (in Chicago).

The 1926 St. Charles Vaudeville house features upcoming headliners like Devo (June 21), the great Johnny Rivers (Aug. 30) and ex-Runaway Lita Ford (Sept. 12).

No idea is a bad idea for Onesti.

He is forming a volunteer “Rock n’ Roll Board of Directors” that will offer ideas on how to book the Arcada. There will be a board for the musical decades of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s that will meet monthly.

“I’ll have an open bar for the meetings,” Onesti told me. “I’ll give them something to eat from the Italian side of me.”

So I could be on the 1960s board and ask Onesti to book the remaining members of the Troggs–even though lead singer Reg Presley is dead.


“Absoultely,” Onesti answered. “It is all a function of what they would want to charge. Or I  might have Eric Burdon call in on the speaker phone. I had Creed Bratton at the Arcada. People said, ‘Oh, he’s that crusty old man on (the NBC-TV hit series) ‘The Office.’ I didn’t realize it, he was a friggin founding member of the Grass Roots (he played on the band’s first four albums) . I looked into it and brought him in. He came acoustically and I did it cabaret style. He did some songs, storytelling, we did a Q & A about the Grass Roots and ‘The Office.’ It was friggin’ marvelous.

“I’m trying to foster a culture that loves this music. The guy who has $10,000 worth of Armani suits but comes to my show in a Who tee-shirt.

And its been working. People bring their concerns or questions about the music to me all the time. It happened so much I decided to organize it. It doesn’t cost anything, I’m not selling them anything. It gives people a forum outside of a bar situation to talk about their love of music of a particular era. If you’re a ‘60s guy, you’re a friggin’ 60s guy. You dress like it. You got some funky hair going and a big old bushy moustache. I love the classics. The people I’ve had at the Arcada like Jerry Lewis, Mickey Rooney, Englebert. I have Ed McMahon on tape going, “Heeeeere’s Ronnny!’ I mean, who has that stuff?”

Wild thing.


Steve Goodman's Wayne Avenue apartment circa 1972, L to R: Earl Pionke, Goodman, John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, Ed Holstein and Fred Holstein

Steve Goodman’s Chicago  apartment 1972, L to R: Earl Pionke, Goodman, John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, Ed Holstein and Fred Holstein

In 1974 Chicago club owner Earl Pionke partnered up with the late singer songwriters Steve Goodman and Fred Holstein (along with Bill Redhead and Duke Nathaus) to open the North Lincoln Avenue music room  “Somebody Else’s Troubles.”

The club was named after Goodman’s second album.

Although Earl died in April, 2013 at the age of 80, he is still playing that song.

Earl was a Type A pack rat. In 1993 Earl and his girl friend Sharon Biggerstaff moved into the former Landmark Inn, 111th and Langley in Pullman. Earl’s dream was to open an Earl of Pullman nightclub in the space, which dates back to 1880.

The three-story building has 13 individual bedrooms on the top floor, a two-bedroom apartment and one bedroom apartment on the second floor and a kitchen adjacent to the main floor restaurant.

“It was the second hotel (to the Florence) in Pullman,” said Mike Shymanski, President of the Historic Pullman Foundation in an interview earlier this year.

Sharon Biggerstaff at the Earl of Pullman, March 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)

Sharon Biggerstaff at the Earl of Pullman, March 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)



The building was recently sold and  Sharon is holding an estate sale from 11 a.m to 5 p.m. this Saturday, June 7 at the house.

Please help her out!

Items include several juke boxes, including one from Somebody Else’s Troubles, a cigarette machine, a Victrola from the 1920′s, vintage sewing machines, furniture, many lamps, a Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder with turntable, a short wave radio console and dressers.

Somebody else’s troubles, for sure.

Looking for a King Size bed from an Earl.

This is your place.

There’s also candleholders, a couple hundred ’78s,  and a vintage piano from the Sieben’s Brewery in Chicago. Sharon has the original Earl of Old Town sign (not for sale, paging the Chicago History Museum), and signage from Somebody Else’s Troubles. “Earl didn’t throw anything away,” Sharon sighed with a laugh.

Sharon even inherited the signs from The Sneak Joynt, (NFS) the private after hours club that Earl’s nephew and the late Steve Beshekas ran behind the Earl of Old Town, 1615 N. Wells, across the street from The Second City and That Steak Joynt. The Sneak Joynt morphed into the private after-hour swinging “Blues Brothers” bar operated by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. This was before Chicago became known for Divvy bikes.

June 16 is the closing date for the sale. Sharon is unsure who exactly purchased the building, only knowing it is a LLC partnership from California with Pullman ties.

“There was talk of a bed and breakfast,” she told me Wednesday afternoon. “There was talk of splitting it into four suites. They want to keep the bar but gut the rest of it.”



The main floor is anchored by a mahogany and oak Brunswick bar that can serve up to 25 people.

Before becoming the Landmark Inn, in the early 1960s the bar and restaurant was the site of Stanley Jay’s, a live polka club that served the Eastern European population of the far south side.

“The new owners  have a lot of work to do, I’ll tell you that much,” Sharon said.


Sky high on a steady beat.

A resplendent mural honoring Chicago house legend Frankie Knuckles was completed late last night atop a building that houses a European clothing store on 2958 W. Fullerton at Sacramento Ave.

Passengers on the El’s Blue Line can see a detailed portrait of the smiling DJ who died March 31 at age 59. It sure beats the picture of “Chicagoan” Chuck Berry who greets passengers of the El at Midway airport.

The Knuckles mural is between 30 and 40 feet long. The work of art was completed coincidentally in time for tonight’s Frankie Knuckles Tribute  and dance party at Millennium Park. Mike Winston, Knuckles’ original opening DJ at the Power Plant will deliver an 8:15 p.m. set.

“I knew this had to be done,”  Chicago born DJ/producer/graffiti artist Mike Tupak said in a Tuesday afternoon conversation on the hot rubber roof. “It was a matter of getting the right people together–and getting the wall, which was the most important thing. We actually had another wall lined up on Milwaukee across the street from the Congress (theater) and two days before we were supposed to start they pulled the plug on us, saying corporate was going to do advertisement.”

Chicago artist B-Boy-B obtained permission from the building’s landlord to use the wall, which faces downtown. The entire wall was done in spray paint.

Besides Tupak and B-Boy B, the collective included Skol, (Rahmaan) Statik, Mugs, Flash and Des. They started the work on May 30. “With this blazing sun killing us all day,” said Tupak, who lives in Jefferson Park. “Statik came Saturday night to do the portrait. We worked all day Sunday and put the finishing touches on it Monday.”


It took between 18 and 20 hours to finish the mural. The artists were not paid. The group paid for the paint and supplies out of their own pocket.

The collective did not listen to much music while they worked.

“It was strange,” said Tupak, 31. “Normally the train is running but due to the Blue line work on the weekend it was closed. It was the most eerie feeling for a graffiti writer who comes at night and creeps around on these kinds of roofs. You’re used to that train passing by. We had a little bit of music (hip-hop, house salsa), but we had no power so it was not like we plugged in a radio or anything.

“But we all had Frankie’s beat in our head.”

Tupak never met Knuckles but he did attend Knuckles January 12, 2013  birthday party  at the Smart Bar. “That’s when I knew I wanted to play house music as a DJ,” Tupak said. “There was something in the room that night. I’ve been doing hip hop and house for a long time, but I learned that night what to focus on.”

Tupak is a member of Chicago Mural Works, the 14-year-old group who did the fireman’s mural at Addison and Lincoln and the Chicago mural off the Kennedy expressway near Ohio.

I could see the group doing other iconic music rooftops along the El.

Chicago artist-DJ Mike Tupak

Chicago artist-DJ Mike Tupak

Tupak looked at the Knuckles mural and then the El tracks.

He said, “If you’ve never been to Chicago what you see on these train lines is going to be your first memory of the city. I think when people who know Frankie and Chicago house music are going to relate to this. We did this for our love of Frankie and the city.

“This is something the city needed.”