The Empty Bottle Celebrates 25 Years of Music Friendly Dancing | Sound Sessions Interview with Bruce Finkelman

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The Empty Bottle [Sound Sessions photo by: Michael Heidemann]

Sound Sessions spoke with Bruce Finkelman about creating a musical legacy in Chicago, growing alongside a changing Ukrainian Village and what the future holds as The Empty Bottle celebrates 25 years of great music in Chicago.  #EB25

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In 1992, Bruce Finkelman created something that, over the course of the next 25 years, would become an almost unparalleled celebration of arts, culture and music in Chicago.  But what we know today at the corner of Western and Cortez actually began when the Empty Bottle hosted its first concert three blocks north.  That location would prove to be short-lived as the venue’s initial show insured, almost instantly, that the Empty Bottle would be moving.

“We opened the doors up and it was a sold out show. It was just a great experience,” said Empty Bottle owner Bruce Finkelman of the venue’s debut set by garage jazz quartet The Coctails (featuring local musicians like Archer Prewitt) in 1992.  “I remember my landlord walked through the door. I took one look at him – with my grinning face of accomplishment – and he just shook his head. And that was the last show we had at that old place,” Finkelman said.  A year later, the Bottle was on the move to the 1035 N. Western location we identify today by the swinging Old Style sign and street side awning which has boasted of “Music Friendly Dancing” since 1993.

Veruca Salt and the Old 97’s have both commemorated the club in song and, with shows under their belt over the years by then little-known artists like the White Stripes, Arcade Fire, Elliot Smith and the Flaming Lips, the Empty Bottle is in the midst of celebrating its 25th anniversary.  The #EB25 concert series has already featured artists like Local H, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile with upcoming performances scheduled by longtime Bottle favorites like Red Red Meat and Califone, culminating in a pair of year end shows by Guided by Voices.

“It made sense to me that if you created a place that you yourself wanted to go to – that I wanted to go to – then maybe there were a few other suckers out there who would feel the same way,” said Finkelman of the mentality that’s made the Empty Bottle work. “And that’s really kind of how we got things started – just being a neighborhood bar that happened to have a stage.”  Today, as Managing Partner at 16” On Center, Finkelman not only owns Empty Bottle but also has a hand in venues like The Promontory in Hyde Park and Pilsen standout Thalia Hall.

[Written By: Jim Ryan]

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Host – Michael Heidemann