Two men entered a tavern.
It was not uncommon for these two men to enter taverns. These two men, myself and writer and filmmaker Dave Hoekstra, know taverns, having spent much of our working and recreational lives sitting in taverns and frequently writing about them.
I’ve been in this business for decades, ever since some misguided Sun-Times editors asked me to write about “bars and nightclubs,” and that’s some of what I did, along with many other duties at that paper and later at the Tribune.
Hoekstra also covered taverns, music, baseball and, for a while, the Bulls at the Sun-Times after I left. He was productive, also writing books, and after leaving the paper in 2014, he remained active by running a live website, hosting a WGN radio show, freelance writing, and producing documentaries (“The Center of Nowhere: The Spirit & Sounds of Springfield”) ) , Missouri”) and writes more books; the most recent being last year’s “Signs in the Dark: Hope and Transformation Among America’s Community Newspapers.”
And now there’s another one. The tavern was empty when we met, so I saw him as soon as we walked in and I wasn’t surprised that he had a book in his hand. “Weeds, a tavern in the Near North Side neighborhood, was a garden full of cultural delights,” he writes in the book. He makes a strong case that Weeds is “one of the most important taverns in the history of the city.”
Do not you know? Possible, I suppose, because it’s located in the city at 1555 N. Dayton Street, just west of the Old Town neighborhood. The building began its life as a children’s furniture store, perhaps a soda fountain, and became a tavern in 1963, renamed the 1555 Club. It was renamed Weeds in the early 1980s (named after the other street that forms its corner) and has been an important and nurturing part of the city’s arts scene ever since.
This was where Marc Smith began the singular and empowering event later known as the Poetry Slam, a Sunday night event at the Green Mill. Poetry and music of all kinds remained interesting in Weeds.
And always the real attraction has been in human form: Sergio Mayora, bartender, guest artist and public face of the tavern. He was a different and sublime character. As actor Michael Shannon puts it, “My first impression was; I was intimidated… He is just one of those mysterious people who will catch your attention. You want to know what he’s thinking, you know?”
You will definitely get to know Mayora through Hoekstra’s writings, and I think you will appreciate his art. Dear artist and gallery owner Tony Fitzpatrick He gave Mayora his first gallery exhibition years ago. “I found in it a fascinating knot of Gordian contradictions,” says Fitzpatrick. “This big man; Who made these amazing little intricate and elegant boxes that are funny, impressive and in some cases bitterly funny? “He brings brutal honesty and intelligence to much of his work.”
So Hoekstra sat down and opened his book. “Weeds Tavern: The Poster Art of Sergio Mayora” is published by local press Trope Publishing, which has been producing eye-catching volumes for several years.
Started by photographer Tom Maday and designer Sam Landers, Trope has transported readers to Chicago, London, Tokyo and elsewhere. He produced dozens of books.
This trip to Weeds is the result of a long story Hoekstra wrote for Newcity; local publications are increasingly interested in providing readers with long-form city stories.
Weeds was never one of my daytime taverns, but I can remember long evenings spent there. I never knew Mayora, and so this book comes as a colorful account, full of Hoekstra’s detailed description and typically lyrical prose.
It also includes a brief introduction of acclaimed actor Shannon, who was no stranger to taverns when he began his acting career here at A Red Orchid Theatre, to whom he remains loyal and supportive. He writes: “I currently live in New York. Wild nights are a thing of the past. “Now I go to museums for fun.” He also says: “I went to the Whitney the other afternoon to see the Edward Hopper exhibition. Then I looked through the home collection a bit. Whitney is dedicated to American art and they don’t have a single Sergio Mayora!!! Heresy!!! It’s time for another curator!!”
He may be right, because this book contains more than 40 posters that Mayora designed and created over the years. Playful, striking, humorous and philosophical, these paintings form a gallery of creative, intriguing and thought-provoking collages; They were all pasted on telephone booths (remember those?) and lampposts a long time ago, aiming to promote the tavern.
Weeds isn’t the bar it used to be. Although Mayora appears at area spots like the Martyrs’ House or the Old Town Beer Hall, it is no longer in operation and Weeds has a sports bar feel. Looking for a taste of what Weeds used to be? You might want to visit the Hideout, another fine tavern just to the northwest. Or of course buy this book.