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Publisher Seeks Your Empty Bottle Stories

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 11, 2013 10:30PM

Photo courtesy The Empty Bottle.

The walls at the Empty Bottle can't talk, so a local book publisher is hoping anyone who has spent any time at the venue will be willing to share their own experiences for a new anthology.

Curbside Splendor Publishing is looking for anyone who has worked at the Empty Bottle, performed there, seen a great show at the venue or even just stumbled in to share their stories for the book with the working title Empty Bottle Chicago - An Oral History: 20 Plus Years of Piss, Shit and Broken Urinals. Victor David Giron, president of Curbside Splendor Publishing, said the call for stories went out just a few weeks ago, and already people have been coming forward.

"We're using the community at large so it's not just another stale documentary," he said. "We really want a book full of really great stories that will capture all sorts of things and emotions. The Empty Bottle is thing that ties it all together."

Giron said he envisions a coffee table type book full of stories about the Empty Bottle accompanied by some of the thousands of photos collected by the staff there through the years, as well as old show posters.

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Hum on New Year's Eve in 1996. Photo courtesy The Empty Bottle.
Bruce Finkelman, owner of the Empty Bottle, said the photos have been sent to the club by people who saw shows there, worked there or performed there.

"People just liked sending them to us" he said, "Of course now with social media everybody is sharing them with us."

Finkelman said he's looking forward to working on the book and has tried to find ways to celebrate the venue, usually when a milestone anniversary approached, but it never really happened.

"Our 10th anniversary came and went. Then our 15th anniversary came and went. Our 20th anniversary came and went," he said. "We were thinking about doing a 21st 'Finally Legal' party, but it never happened. By the time this book comes out, it will be our 23rd or 24th anniversary."

There might be some nuts and bolts history included in the book—like the Empty Bottle first opened in a location two blocks away in 1992. However, Giron said he is looking to really get the to the essence of what the Empty Bottle has meant to the music scene in Chicago.

"There will be some funny stories and some tragic stories, I'm sure," he said. "The character of the place will really come to life."

Free Energy at The Empty Bottle in 2010. Photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy.
Giron said some stories will be solicited from specific people, but the majority should come from the community that built up the Empty Bottle.

"The Empty Bottle has been so good because of the community of bands that have played there and the people that have gone there, so it makes sense that it's told by the community," he said. "We really want to make it a community book."

Giron said he has been a long time patron of the Empty Bottle and met Finkelman about six years ago. Giron said he has done some bookkeeping work for the club, and Finkelman, knowing about his publishing work, approached him about putting the anthology together.

"When you work so hard to build something up, it's really nice to see other people take an interest in it," Finkelman said.

Of course, Finkelman has a lot of great memories of his own club. He explained when it opened, the Empty Bottle was in a predominantly Ukrainian neighborhood and did not host live music. Some of the Ukrainian regulars were in construction and built the first stage at the old location. Finally the stage was built and Finkleman got a band at his bar.

Dead Moon circa ???. Photo courtesy The Empty Bottle.
"I thought it was the best thing. I was working behind the bar, the place was packed and everyone was having a great time. Then the landlord walked in and just shook his head," Finkelman said. "So we found a place two blocks away and shut that other place down."

And some of the bands that have played there have left an impression with Finkelman. He said he recalled hosting the White Stripes early in their career, and seeing The Flaming Lips walk off the stage and over to the piano to keep music playing in the joint. He also remembers The Strokes opening for Guided By Voices and seeing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play for about five people in the club.

Giron said he will be collecting stories through the summer and people can visit the Curbside Splendor Publishing's special Web site to submit their own. The book is expected to be released in 2015.