“She is novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.” – Mark Twain
In his book, Chicago: A Biography, Dominic Pacyga writes: “There seems to be a different Chicago around every street corner, behind every bar, and within every apartment, two-flat, cottage, or bungalow.” For centuries, Chicago has attracted writers, residents and tourists alike for its neighborhoods—Gwendolyn Brooks by Bronzeville, Saul Bellow by Humboldt Park, and Upton Sinclair by the meatpacking plants in Back of the Yards. And like all things—all living things—the communities comprising the second city continue to expand and contract. New neighborhoods are born, while others die and fade away in their time. But one Chicago-based company is both breathing new life and resuscitating the vital history in some of Chicago’s fastest growing neighborhoods.
Although you’ve probably never heard of Chicago-based 16″ on Center, chances are you’ve stumbled upon (or more likely, out of) one of their growing number of bars, restaurants and music venues (see the list here). And while their name is derived from the construction term meaning the center mark that creates the strongest build, their ‘brand’ is the gestalt of each unique location they launch, or more importantly, the resulting community it nurtures and supports. From Evanston to Hyde Park, Ukrainian Village to Logan Square, and Pilsen to the Loop—just to name a few footprints—16″ on Center’s venues draw Chicagoans out of their homes, enabling them to unplug, engage and be part of their neighborhoods.
Their calling is simultaneously simple yet real: to build bedrock neighborhood establishments, places where people want to hang out. It all began in 1992 with native son, Bruce Finkelman, and his now legendary neighborhood dive saloon and music venue in Ukrainian Village called the Empty Bottle. From its inception, and firmed in the foundation of its current location in 1993, the Empty Bottle has been a cultural mecca for great music, cheap beer and some of the best alternative rock and jazz in the city. It’s one of the few places in Chicago where you are likely to see the next big indie band, without the buzz or the bullshit. And nearly 25 years later, this is the same seed that has inspired a portfolio of amazing hangouts, an army of loyal fans, and the endorsement of Michelin stars and Anthony Bourdain.
Standing in a 16″ on Center’s location takes you back to a time when your social network wasn’t mediated by Facebook, but began in your own backyard. Their spaces encourage us to be present, face-to-face the old fashioned way, with and old fashioned cocktail in hand.
In this eleventh episode of 12 For 12, Adam suffers for his art and explores all the indulgences of 16″ on Center, and surprisingly, manages to maintain his balance and his dignity.