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Phyllis' Musical Inn: Alternative Leisure For 60 Years

"An intimate outpost in a now-transformed landscape, Phyllis' Musical Inn provides alternative leisure to Wicker Park's gentrified classes, ubiquitous hipsters, and stubbornly entrenched artists, recording professionals, luthiers, musicians, and writers who feed on the area's persevering postindustrial vibe."

That description from the bar's Facebook page pretty much nails it. sounds about right.

"Wonderful spirits have been dancing and spinning for 60 years at Phylllis' Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division," Dave Hoekstra wrote earlier this week for the Sun-Times

"The historic Division Street music room celebrate[d] its anniversary on Feb. 4, the same date it opened as a polka club in 1954. The bar [was] closed for a private and no-blue-jeans party, but any time is a good time to vist Phyllis'. Along with the Gold Star, it is the last authentic bar in Wicker Park. (Owner Clem Jaskot Jr. said a public anniversary celebration is on tap for the club's annual Fourth of July festival.)"

Let's take a look.


"The exterior to Phyllis' hasn't changed since the bar opened in 1954 as a polka club by an accordionist, Phyllis Jaskot, making the place Wicker Park's oldest live music venue," according to the Chicago Bar Project.

"This followed a stint as Harriet's Inn and was back in the heyday of 'Polish Broadway,' when Nelson Algren prowled the neighborhood and would stop by for a drink (or ten)."

Writes Hoekstra:

"[Phyllis] Jaskot opened her club in the heart of 'Polish Broadway,' the name of the Division Street strip between Ashland and Western. There were 52 taverns on the strip, and most of them featured polka music."


"Unpredictable sounds come throbbing out of this establishment, Wicker Park's first for live music, every night of the week," says Centerstage Chicago.

"You're just as likely to hear savvy jazz as you are amateur nu metal, and frowned-upon cover songs are kept in their rightful place: Wrigleyville. Bands new to Phyllis' are generally booked on Sunday and Wednesday nights, so it's gem or junk those evenings. The low stage is in a pocket at the back of the long room, a narrow design that handicaps the acoustics. There's also usually jazz on Monday and an open mic on Tuesday."


"Combine easy cover charges and reasonable drink prices with maximum rock 'n' roll and you have Phyllis' recipe for a night out," says Metromix.


"I love Phyllis'," an anonymous Reader commenter says.

"The thing is that not everyone gets it. If you need a fancy cocktail, this is not the place. If you are happy with a beer and a shot, this is definitely the place. In my opinion, it is one the few remaining authentic old school bars in the 'hood. The courtyard is great, especially when it is warm out. There is a basketball hoop for playing tipsy games of Horse. Most of the bartenders are awesome. Bands can be great or not, but there is rarely a cover which is always great. Every Monday night there is awesome jazz! Great home away from home if you are looking for a chill place to hang.


Back to Hoekstra:

"Phyllis is a coal miner's daughter from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who came to Chicago on a bus with a suitcase and her accordion. She played accordion in her future club as early as 1945. The building dates back to 1908, when it was a grocery store. Phyllis met her husband, Clem Jaskot Sr., when he waltzed into the bar.

"They married in 1956 and had a great life, as is any life filled with music. Besides Clem Jr., they raised daughters Sue, Maria and Charlotte. Clem Sr. died in December 1997.

"Over the last quarter-century Phyllis' became a prolific center of unique country-urban music. Minimalist bands - Souled American, Green, Shrimp Boat, Falstaff and Stump the Host (later Dolly Varden) - broke out of the club. Veruca Salt played its first ever gig at the club. Wicker Park became seriously gentrified, but Phyllis' retained a dense, working-class air that influenced young musicians.

"The club's first crossover show was on Sept. 8, 1984, with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Smilin' Bobby and his Blues Machine opened that show, and the band remains in the club's rotation today. The glorious keyboards/shotglass/top hat wallpaper that Phyllis picked out in 1955 still adorns the east wall."


Random musical highlights:

The Lilacs in 1992.


The Kaisers in 1996.


The Volcanos in 2006.


Jones Hall in 2012.


Makeup Vertigo in 2013.


Don Music in 2014.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 6, 2014

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