Dead DIY Spaces: Needlehouse


10 yrs back this idyllic little Bridgeport apartment building was home to Needle House. The story is that back in the day it was a cop bar and, after that, it was a shooting gallery, earning its name from the stacks of needles the punks who took it over had to sweep up to settle in.

The entirety of the first floor was taken over by a half pipe and the basement was home to sweaty, smelly hardcore shows. The walls were completely covered by spraypainted stencil art by Joe Suta, who played in the house band Raise the Red Lantern, made art under the name Choke, and was the only dude I knew who lived there. About a decade before Sick Fisher was the king of painting murals on the doorways and awnings of hip businesses, Joe was doing the same thing. You can still, I think for now, see some of his work on the now-also-dead Uncle Fun on Belmont and in Threadless warehouse.

This was one of those reliable spots where, like buddY gallery, if you didn’t know of anything specific to do on on a Friday or Saturday night, you could just show up and expect cool punk rock shit and I would frequently trek across town from the Northside to hear bands sight unseen. The spot hosted a lot of shows with Southkore bands like Reaccion and Tras de Nada, touring acts like Iron Lung, and was the first place where I saw that weird whiteboy hardcore dancing where everybody does windmill kicks and calisthenics while facing the same direction and not touching each other. I don’t know where those bands came from but this was the only place I ever saw it in Chicago.

Bridgeport is a weird place, one of the only neighborhoods I know that became more diverse with gentrification. Traditionally, it was home to many of Chicago’s most famous mafia and political families, a place you weren’t supposed to go at night if you weren’t white, where 13-year old Lenard Clark was pulled off his bike and beaten to death in 1997 with one of the witnesses murdered and another disappeared before the trial, a place where I’ve been threatened for being gay (nope), Mexican (nope), AND white (kinda but kinda not, and also a long story) and god help me if any of those angry Catholics knew I was darkish and flamboyantish because I’m Jewish. It’s now the neighborhood that’s neck and neck with my ancestral home of Rogers Park as the most diverse I’m Chicago (I know this is due to some very site specific neighborhood factors that opened up new residential spaces, allowing for Mexican and Chinese American families to expand out of Bridgeport and Pilsen without displacing longtime residents and blah blah blah snore it’s still weird). When I used to show up on a Friday night, the place would be overflowing with grimy scumheads toting forties (and of course I was a grimy scumbag toting a forty too); when I drove by this afternoon, a cute Asian American couple in matching outfits were leaving for a jog.

DIY neighborhood notes: Simultaneous to Needle House, a different group of kids upstairs would sometimes host noise bands and art shows. I know I saw a side project with members of Coughs there but the name of the space completely eludes me. A couple years later, I would see the other Chicago Lab Rat, to be precise at one of at least two other Chicago Lab Rat’s play thrash ska along the lines of  Leftöver Crack in a condemned building some kids squatted in until it was demolished kitty corner on Halsted. After that the kids behind the burner rave zine Brilliantly Mad took over a storefront called the Emerald Palace and threw the type of magickal dance parties that ended in yoga. I don’t think they still throw parties there but they maintain a community garden in the backyard.

DISCLAIMER: I did little-to-no research, but everything is true as remembered and experienced. Memory is fallible and experiences vary. Names and dates may be completely off. People who I remember fondly may have been total monsters. People who were dickheads to me might have been perfect angels having a bad day.

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