A spelling bee tonight highlights the first of your final six evenings to visit this South Side bar, a longtime epicenter of local alt culture.
Owners Steve Zumoff and Scott Kramer, who opened the Lava Lounge
in 1996, announced April 8 that they are closing it April 30, to reopen it in May as Monster, an LGBTQ-friendly bar. They're ending the Lounge's run with a series of events they hope will usher it out in style.
Zumoff and Kramer acquired the space, on East Carson near the Birmingham Bridge, from the owners of the old Liberty Belle Tavern, at a time when such old-school neighborhood bars were still somewhat plentiful along the Carson Street corridor (and before anyone had built $300,000 townhouses down there.) Local artists refashioned the interior with that “lava” made almost literal: the cave-like feel of its textured walls, rock-formation seatbacks and stalagmite lighting fixtures.
In its heyday, the Lounge jumped with live music, comedy, belly-dancers, sideshow performers and more. It promoted cocktail culture well before that was a thing. It also remained home for until 1999 to Frankie Capri, the local-legend one-man band whom the Lounge had inherited from the Liberty Belle.
Vocalist and performer Phat Man Dee, now widely known around town, says the Lounge gave her her start as curator of performances, and let her “really hon[e] my work as both an artist and an emcee, host and promoter.” (She was the janitor there, too.)
Zumoff and Kramer “let me get away with the most ridiculous things,” she says in a statement, including “pancake-eating contests, Bulgarian folk dancing, Greek music nights, comedians, bluegrass, bellydancers, fire-eating, sideshow marvelry, Ramen noodle wrestling, Porn-E-Oke, slide shows, drag queens” and more – including The Bong Show, an underground talent showcase with a sideshow flavor that she’s reviving one last time this Wednesday.
Eventually, though, the Lounge’s “customer base got a little older and doesn’t go out as much,” Kramer tells CP
. And younger crowds weren’t really discovering the bar, he says.
In the transition to Monster, the owners say, the bar’s distinctive interior will mostly remain. (Zumoff and Kramer, whose other venues include the Beehive Coffeehouse and the Double Wide Grill restaurants, are teaming on Monster with gaylifetelevision.com owner David Stanton.)
But the Lounge doesn't plan to go quietly. (“Get ready to party like it’s 1996!” says the bar’s Facebook page.)
After tonight’s spelling bee comes tomorrow’s Admiral Enright’s Carnival Intoxica, a cocktail night with a longtime bartender. The week closes out with Thursday’s concert by The Bessemers and (talk about a blast from the '90s) the Cavemen From Oklahoma; Friday’s ’80s night with DJ Samarai; and Saturday’s closing night, with DJs and bartending favorites. (Details are on the Lounge's Facebook page
Still, a special highlight of the week is sure to be the elegiacally titled Last and Final Ever Bong Show.
As of today, on that event’s FB page
, Man Dee was promising such performers as Fangs the Clown and The Dangler, along with “possible appearances” by Hammond Eggsz, The Last Poem, Papay the Penultimate, Ketan’s Massive Stance and Ms. Clark’s Dance of Majesty and Mayhem. (In other words, expect many of the Bong Show's wacky former regulars, doing music and more.)
The Last and Final Ever Bong Show begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The cover for the 21-and-over show is $5. Limited signup to perform is available until 8 p.m.
The Lava Lounge is located at 2204 E. Carson St.