Monday, April 28, 2008

The Vic Theater

3145 North Sheffield
Chicago IL 60657-4416
Phone: (773) 472-0449

I have a strange fascination with old buildings and structures. It is hard to know where it stems from, some place inside that longs to connect with the past I suppose. Maybe, it's just an adventurer’s spirit, longing to be an urban Indiana Jones©. Whatever it is, this thing, it grips my attention in an antiquated building. Fortune would have it that I live in Chicago, a place were such gems are abundant.

One such relic is The Vic Theater, built at the start of 1909 (opened in 1912) in Chicago's "Northish" side. This place predates not only WWI, but also Einstein's theory of Relativity. The latter might explain it's continued perseverance in a city of continual flux. The actual reason for this grande dame's longevity might be her flexibility. Originally a vaudevillian venue known as "The Victoria Theater", she has undoubtedly seen every change that our culture could through her way. Everything from the last holdouts from the vaudevillian era (Vaudeville was being crushed under the juggernaut that was Hollywood) small stage productions, and live music (as varied as the times) has been held in her historic bosom.

From her beautiful Italian marble floors in the lobby, the ornate sculptures that adorn her walls, and the intricate carvings lovingly placed on railings and balconies; you can see the living history in this building. In fact, if you ignore the modern people and equipment laced through the building, it is almost as if you have traveled back in time. So prominent is the richness of her design that these new fangled intruders can seem impossibly far out of place, yet she somehow accommodates them.

With a bittersweet note, my only experiences are with "The Vic"; a modernized, "hipped" up version of the old show house. On one hand, I long to know what it was like bustling with people at the turn of the century, laughing at the stage antics of variety show, to be a part of a time unburdened by the complexities of our modern world.

The other hand holds all of the pearls of the present. Seeing a live performance at the Vic is unparalleled, the sound (though amplified now) is top notch, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. Sitting there, music blaring is as intimate as you can feel around 1,500 people. All the while, rocking out, of course. I love seeing movies at The Vic. Never mind that the event has been dubbed "The Brew and View", never mind that it only costs five dollars to see two movies. I would probably go even if I couldn't drain cheap beer and the admission was triple what it is. The experience is what counts. Sitting in there, surrounded by the timeless beauty, here are a few of my favorite things about the experience in no particular order:

  • The Popcorn: it manages to be fantastic, better than the crap you get at the multiplex and pay an hour's wages for. The corn at The Vic is hot, fresh, and cheap.
  • When the sound dies down in the film or right when the movie is about to begin, there is a silence in the theater itself. However, you can faintly hear the sounds of the city waiting for you outside the walls. A siren zooming by, people carrying on, the roar of the train nearby; it is as if the city has just been put on hold while you enjoy this time, and the outside sounds gently remind you that they're waiting patiently for your return, all until the movie rises to silence them.
  • I love the old radiators in the building. I love the feel of the heat coming off of them after coming in from the cold, the pinging noise they make, and most of all, the smell when they have just kicked on and warmed up. The smell is not one you'd take and bottle up for perfume; yet it is definitely something I would want to spray in my own home. Mixed with the smell of popcorn and beer, it is simply intoxicating. An absolute "must experience" sort of thing.

So that's my side of it, I am sure there is more to tell, as there always is, but if you are ever in the neighborhood or feel like making a special trip, take time out for a stop at The Vic, pick up a Popcorn and stay for whatever show is playing. I am certain it will be worth it.

Photos Courtesy of JAM Productions.