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Remembering Red Dog and Mad Bar of the '90s in Wicker Park as Annex Opens

By Alisa Hauser | February 24, 2016 2:49pm
 The character Elaine was known for her, uh, unique dance moves.
The character Elaine was known for her, uh, unique dance moves.
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WICKER PARK — New dance club Annex wants to harken back to the Red Dog days in the 90s.  Back when the Wicker Park house music hub was, as Tribune's Achy Obejas put it,  "a kaleidoscope of races, ages and lifestyles ..."

The "emphasis here is on youth," Obejas observed of the club back then. Red Dog was located above a bar called Borderline (now, Tavern) on the northeast corner of North and Damen avenues.

In my 20s, I was one of those youths. I used to call Red Dog, Bad Dog, because I am bad with names like my father, who called his favorite John Candy movie, "Planes, Trains and Airplanes."

My friends, who would correct me to Red Dog, also said I danced like Elaine on "Seinfeld," which I tried to take as a compliment but it was difficult, having seen a few episodes.

People were really into the dancing. There weren't cell phones yet to look down at.

Up the street from Red Dog, there was Mad Bar, another dance club, later changed to a bar called Cans. Now, it's a Nike store.     

"Mad Bar and Red Dog were symbiotic places, a one-two punch. You'd start early at Mad Bar and then to Red Dog," said Joey Swanson, music director at Annex.

DJs playing what Swanson describes as "quintessential Chicago house sound" got their starts at Mad Bar and Red Dog, the latter which was always a late-hour spot open until 4 a.m, he said.

Swanson is the host of Boom Boom Room, a dance party making its return to the Annex this Monday, hosted by another long time Wicker Parker, artist JoJo Baby.

Now 41, Swanson, who started working at Red Dog in 1996, says, "I'm a little older now;  it was better in my day. And it was very non-judgmental. The party and the dancing came first; it was amazing time."

For the new crop of 20-somethings, today is their time.

And revelers flocking to Wicker Park today are giving hope to Swanson.

"Wicker Park got a little bit bro for a while, a little fratty. I see a new glimmer of cool that's happening all over again, beyond the hipster, beyond the obvious. A resurgence of cool that's back to music centric, artistic," Swanson said.

He concluded, "This is an amazing neighborhood, a gob of history, things are cyclical."

Now, if the cycle will include reinstating the long demolished White Castle on the northwest corner of Armitage and Western Avenues, previously a favorite post-Red Dog snacking spot, I'd be ready to dance like Elaine again. 

Though I doubt I could stay awake until last call.

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