The Double Door Hearing: What Went Down
By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 10, 2005 3:02PM
Local musicians who started an online petition, a property owner’s sudden change of heart, and fans of local music who packed a downtown courtroom saved Double Door from an early closing and the club’s operators from a long legal fight.
If you read articles in the press or checked out Double Door’s site over the last week, you’d have read that the landlords were engaging in a “war on culture.” With petitions started and clubgoers rallied, the stage was set for a showdown in the courtroom. Following a two hour-plus hearing in judge’s chambers (frustratingly hidden away from the eyes and ears of the 50-plus people in the gallery), Double Door co-owner Sean Mulroney and his attorney announced that they had come to an agreement with property owners Harry and Brian Strauss that would keep the Double Door in its current space at least until 2014 by filling out their current lease through 2009 with a five-year renewal. How did a months-long dispute get resolved in a little more than a couple hours? Here’s what happened:
Before the hearing began, Metro owner and Double Door co-owner Joe Shanahan spoke to some local bloggers and freelancers about why Double Door was worth saving. Master of the sound bite, he says there are still “a few more power chords to ring out in these four walls.” At that moment, Lovehammers bassist Dino Kourelis walks up holding a petition from savedoubledoor.com (spearheaded by P. Griffin Baron) with over 5000 signatures on it in support of keeping the Double Door open. The petition is quickly passed to Mulroney.
As the 2 PM start time rolls around, the principals all enter the courtroom including Mulroney, landlord Brian Strauss, their respective lawyers, and Shanahan. Eventually fifty people fill the courtroom’s gallery seats. There are more tattoos and t-shirts than wingtips and ties so we assume that most in attendance are fans of Double Door. Chicagoist finds a seat next to bassist Kourelis.
What follows is the most boring two and a half hours that Chicagoist has ever spent in its life. As the hearing is about to start, Strauss and his attorney leave the courtroom briefly. Both return and then each side’s lawyer departs for the hallway. The sense that something is happening behind the scenes is inescapable as lawyers and their respective clients spend time behind closed doors in hushed conferences for the rest of the afternoon.
The hearing soon becomes an endurance trial for those in attendance. Some of the attendees leave while other latecomers file in. Conversation starts to fill the previously hushed courtroom while others pull out books, magazines or knitting. Chicagoist stops for a bathroom break to find that Kourelis has kept himself entertained by writing the following in our notebook: “At 2:40, midgets and elephants walked into the courtroom and began whistling Dixie...” We look up and Kourelis smiles: “You totally missed it, man.” Lacking a story, the writers in attendance, mostly bloggers and metro beat reporters for the Trib and Sun-Times, start talking to each other. The metro reporters try to get caught up on local music while the bloggers lament the need for second jobs.
Over the next hour, more lawyerly comings and goings are seen. Reporters for the local broadcast media have now arrived. A frustrated Kourelis gets up to leave. He notes that he’ll be walking home as he spent his last $1.75 on the ride down to the courtoom to drop off the petition. The Tribune metro reporter calls after him to give him a couple bucks for the bus.
Finally, at 4:15, in an anti-climactic ending to rival Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Mulroney gets up to announce that the agreement has been reached for the Double Door to stay in its current space until at least 2014 by serving out its current lease albeit at an increased rent though not as great an increase as Strauss wanted. Mulroney later characterizes this as “the perfect settlement...neither of us are happy.” Strauss quickly darts into the hallways as the assembled crowd sits in momentary shock at Chicago’s own Velvet Revolution before breaking into applause.
Then hallway spin commences before the cameras. Strauss’s lawyer proclaims this to be an “amiable resolution” and that the dispute “was not about a culture war, it was always about money.” Chicagoist isn’t entirely sure how this paints his client in a better light but then we never went to law school. Mulroney says that despite having to pay increased rent “I could not be more happy. Our landlord’s not a bad guy...I think today made a big difference when he came in and saw the courtroom was full. The petition would never be admissible at trial but we took it and waved it around in front of the judge.” Shanahan again praises the folks at savedoubledoor.com for their petition. Shanahan also points out that the landlords always wanted to find a way to work out the situation. “Who wants to be the bad guy?” he says. “Who wants to say ‘I closed a club down’? [Landlord] Brian [Strauss] came through. He’s kind of a hero today.”
As we left the Daley Center, Chicagoist was reminded of a quote from the movie Zero Effect. Despite all the rhetoric about a “war on culture” between landlords and rockers, “there aren't evil guys and innocent guys...it's just a bunch of guys.” Luckily, all those guys still love great live music. Rock on, Chicago.