Good Night, Hq
One day I will close my eyes and remember this magical place
Between the years of 2011 and 2016, a view from the Western Blue Line stop would look something like this:
Through the often fogged up glass of the third story window, you can make out a small stage, a red curtain and a tube TV wall with a coronated 70s unit buzzing with snow static on the screen. On it, neatly brushed on with black acrylic paint reads a simple “Hq.”
If you kept course, you’d look up at a sharp flight of stairs and if the door on the 2nd floor landing was open, the stairs would just keep on going, seemingly, endlessly. As you begin the climb, your ascend grows red, either embracing you in its womb-like warmth or nervously making you wonder if you’re gonna see "redrum" written somewhere in blood. Hopefully, the hanging vintage chandelier assuages your fears and you make it to the top.
On any given night (and sometimes day), a scene ranging from the bizarrely hypnotic to joyfully rageful plays out as if in an alternate reality, as if a memory unfolding in real time. The way to enter this scene is through a nondescript door at 1914 N. Milwaukee, the building itself looking abandoned, almost intentionally so to dissuade unwanted company. It was a “you had to know it was there” type of entrance.
The front room of Hq held its own type of magic. Often adorned in an eclectic variety of art, furnished with a stylized (and tailored to the event) photo booth, center-pieced with a retro jukebox vibrating with the sounds of those who sometimes played there, the gallery room made a peculiar place for unusual conversation, and hence, a unique anachronistic lounge. You can park your booty cheeks in any of the mismatched and constantly re-arranged furniture and in doing so, shift your lens just a bit.
Between this room and the one that can be seen from the Western Blue Line stop, is a nook. It would have utilitarian purposes until it would ultimately become the bar zone where a packed fridge and alcohol product stood easily hideable from inquiring minds with ill intentions. Contributions for drinks was the sustainable model, but it was the music, the art, the performances, the weirdness, the dancing, the rebellion, the chosen family dinners, the post-midnight conversations, the we-are-here-and-now shout into the constricting abyss of conventionality, the aliveness which kept Hq’s heart beating.
That room, the one that overlooks the Chicago skyline as if a reminder that we could own a little hidden cove in plain sight and in between tall skyscrapers, perpetually echoed the vibes that were brought into it. That room would transform into whatever space it needed it to be. That room would nurture the creative spark of its occupiers and amplify it a thousand fold, it would protect creativity so it can jump off its highest cliffs. But mostly, that room was pure fun. It was the rattling of the freight elevator as it would bring up the musicians’ gear. It was the rolling laughter of the audience at an unpredictable moment in the variety show. It was the floor shaking under the collective stomping of the dancers. It was the loudest quiet after an a capella note ends, never faltering. It was the microphone of the hip-hop artist hollering “How you doing, Hq?”
Operations were primarily run by a team of four:
Krzysztof Piotroski who handled A/V and digitization; Chloe Honeyman-Bloede who was the de facto technical director; and Gillian Hastings and Tonika Todorova who did everything else from pre-productions, to booking, to strikes and maintenance. Silent Theatre was the primary creative driving force. Our ten-year run of The Wild Party Variety Hour held half of its stint at Hq. And so did other main stage productions that would both perform and rehearse there. Eventually, BYOT company would also call the Wicker Park destination home. And then, there were the tenants. Through the course of its existence, Hq housed almost 20 souls, several cats, and a couple of dogs. Some only briefly, some who wouldn’t leave even after the entity had left only the remnants of the fun behind: an odd-shaped stage, a crooked paper mache cigarette behind a transparent curtain, a wall of tubed TVs some barely holding any images.
The building that housed Hq was sold in 2016. The neighborhood was changing, gentrifying, starbucksifying. Instinctively, it felt like the right time to close that chapter of our lives. We had been a part of a ripple in time and space stitched in the quilt of the DIY community. After the final farewell gathering had quieted down, a piece of paper framed in a small 4x6 that was given as a gift hung above the kitchen sink. Underneath it, in solid black ink, the words: “Hq. One day I will close my eyes and remember this magical place.”