In an industrial parking lot near the Kennedy, there’s a delightfully sketchy clapboard house with an “Old Style” beer sign dangling from it like a Christmas ornament. This ramshackle shanty has been slinging drinks to hardworking folk since the 19th century, and has officially been “The Hideout” (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.) since 1934.
The vibe here is all about free expression, verbally, artistically and socially. (Their history of “played here first/ it happened at the Hideout” is alt-rock name-dropping at its finest.) But on the first Tuesday of the month, Ben Joravsky, a bestselling author and political reporter for the Chicago Reader, and Mick Dumke, a former Reader staffer who’s now an investigative reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, host a roundtable of elected officials, union leaders, activists, and other journalists to dish how Chicago really works.
Backroom politics where you can actually enter the backroom, pull up a chair and grab a drink—what a concept. I talked to Dumke about how and why this started.
“We like to talk politics in a bar,” says Dumke. “It’s our favorite sport. The atmosphere makes people comfortable and encourages free-flowing conversations about series issues.”
Give a person a beer, I take it, and you give them an opinion. But why should people come to listen, especially if they’re not political junkies?
“This is a chance to be provoked,” Dumke says. “To think about this city and why it works the way it does.”
“People say shit that upsets you. It should. That’s politics.”
That’s great in theory, but voter turnout for people under 35 is about 20 percent, according to the Knight Foundation. Besides offering PBR, what else can you do to get people to show up?
“If the fact that people are taking money won’t get you involved, what will?” Dumke asks. “If you don’t like all money going to foreign wars, corrupt politics, schools and parks falling apart, you have to speak out.”
When I ask what he hopes this dialogue will do, Dumke gives me, of all things, a dating analogy.
“Politics isn’t love at first sight. Change doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. It’s like courting someone. It takes time.”
Despite the fact I have a scary, yet charming vision of being serenaded by Bernie Sanders “Say Anything”-style, I get it. There’s innate power when people come together, at city hall or in a hundred-year-old speakeasy on a Tuesday night.
I have one last question. “What about Rahm?”
“There’s an open invite,” Dumke tells me. “He’s denying it by ignoring us.”
Oh well. The next First Tuesday might not have Rahm, but it will have a debate between longtime political consultant Delmarie Cobb, representing Hillary Clinton, and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, representing Bernie Sanders. Bring your questions.
It’s anyone’s guess who’ll be playing Bill eating a hot dog in the corner.
First Tuesdays with Mick & Ben will happen at 6:30 pm March 1 at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.). Entry is $5.