I went to Ace Hardware the other day looking for some indiscriminate object to complete a project. Instead of heading to Home Depot to be lead for miles down hundreds of aisles by a confused 20 year old, I decided that Ace Hardware would be just the place for all things odd, and obsolete. But walking into Ace was more than just a witch hunt for a thingy-me-bob, it was a visit to Sunset Cafe, one of Chicago’s earliest and most legendary Jazz venues from the 1920’s – 1940’s.
This wasn’t my first visit to Ace, but I hadn’t become a regular because…well… Ace Hardware just doesn’t scream modern shopping! The outdoor display window showcased all kinds of seemingly defunct home accessories (blue wall phone with attached curly cord anyone?) and the thick layer of dust that smothered them further confirmed that I was being transported into the past. As I walked up to the store, I was ushered inside via a vintage turnstile where I collided head on with rows of tightly packed and stacked merchandise cloaked in a dull florescent haze. This place had everything, and just before I was overtaken by the familiar wave of defeat that challenges me each time I step into a home improvement store, I was greeted by both the cashier and the owner Dave. They successfully decoded my blabblering, and within moments, were directing me toward the thingy-me-bob I had in mind. Talk about awesome customer service! (Strike 1 Home Depot)!
After Dave thoughtfully demo’d my new gizmo (strike 2 Home Depot), he proceeded to show me the history behind his aging storefront. We climbed the 6 stairs leading to the employee break room and office and stepped onto the Sunset Cafe Stage! And just beyond the worn, warped shelving and the flurry of invoices, books and everyday stuff, I could make out the original, hand painted mural that spanned the back of the stage. Meanwhile, as Dave whipped out envelopes filled with black and white photos of the club, its menu (complete with 0.75 cent Caviar) and dozens of images of legendary Jazz Artists, it struck me that I was standing where a virtually unknown Ella Fitgerald performed A Tisket a Tasket during the club’s talent show (essentially paving her way into the heart of the Jazz scene).
Class was in session and I couldn’t get enough!
As I looked out from the office window down onto the store floor with all of its odds and ends, I suddenly didn’t see them anymore. I didn’t notice the haze of yellow overhead lighting, the mouse traps or the Ajax. Now I could only see the original pillars that lined the club floor and the sea of round table tops with black and white patrons smiling and tapping their feet just beyond the draped table cloth. Home Depot doesn’t swing like this! (Strike 3)
I walked out of Ace singing A Tisket A Tasket with my thingy-me-bob in hand vowing to return again soon! Shopping just doesn’t get any better than this!
Have you taken a trip into the past lately? Wanna go?
Check it out at: 315 E. 35th Street, Chicago, IL 60616 and tell Dave I sent ya!
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