Man About Metro: Chicago's Music Impresario Discloses His Favorite Places to Get a Proper Pint"Chicago has a certain big-city mentality, a cosmopolitan mentality. But it still feels like a town. It does not have the sprawl like Los Angeles or the concentrated towers of New York."
When it comes to music, there is no such thing as a "Chicago sound." At least not according to Joe Shanahan. And he should know. Shanahan is founder and owner of Metro and Smart Bar, two of the city's best-known and best-loved nightclubs. He's also often credited for helping champion seminal Chicago bands the Smashing Pumpkins and the Smoking Popes.
"It is one of the pieces of the puzzle that makes Chicago so comfortable. There's Chicago house and DJ culture, but it is not rock versus industrial," he says. That kind of collegiality extends beyond the music industry, too. "Chicago has a certain big-city mentality, a cosmopolitan mentality. But it still feels like a town. It does not have the sprawl like Los Angeles or the concentrated towers of New York."
In that all-encompassing Chicago, Shanahan lives and works, patronizing other small businesses that contribute to the city's melody, just like he does.
One of his favorite haunts is the Gingerman Tavern in Wrigleyville, just up the street from Metro and Smart Bar. "It is a really great neighborhood bar. It has a jukebox and you can listen to anything from Willie Nelson to Andrew Bird and have a well-poured pint of beer." Almost the opposite of the Gingerman Tavern is The Violet Hour in Wicker Park. "If the Gingerman is loud and bustling," says Shanahan, "the Violet Hour is a salon, with quiet conversation and impeccable taste in music."
Also close to Metro is Uncommon Ground, a hybrid restaurant/bar/coffee shop. In fact, it is so close to the club, Shanahan calls it "the Metro commissary." "We go there with a lot of agents and bands. They have a great regional food program, and a great chef. It is a nice hub to have right next to you."
A family man who has been married for 20 years, Shanahan is as likely to be found decorating his Andersonville home for Halloween as he is club hopping. He definitely appreciates the neighborhood he calls home. "Andersonville is five minutes to work, five minutes to school," he says. The Andersonville Farmers Market recently morphed from being somewhere he went to pick up vegetables to a destination for the whole family. "My wife and kids love it. We go there, we eat. It has really tapped into a lot of things in the neighborhood. We love it."
Nearby Ravenswood is home to one of Shanahan's favorite shops: Architectural Artifacts. "What they do there is remarkable. It is a museum and gallery as much as a store, although I have bought a lot of things there. I have these lamps from a bank in Kansas that came from there, with these white glass tops. I always point people in their direction." When he's finished browsing at Architectural Artifacts, he'll eat at nearby Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, known for its authentic Italian thin-crust pies.
When Shanahan ventures from the north side, he heads to The Publican in the West Loop. While it may be in a different ZIP code, this bar has the same laid-back Chicago feel that he treasures. "It reminds me of a European beer hall, with this great aroma. And it is not at all fussy."
Check out Joe's Chicago.