The ’90s – My 9 Favorite Chicago Nightclubs: Medusa’s to Harry’s Velvet Room

During the ’90s, when I wasn’t working, studying, commuting to work, school or home or not obligated to attend yet another Russian Restaurant event, I danced! And I danced hard.

Early in the decade, one of my favorite places to go was the Dome Room, where XRT’s Marty Lennartz would spin tunes from all over the world: My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, Utah Saints, Moby, Front 242, The Orb and even Chitown’s own Ministry. With my black leather Harley Davidson jacket, blue jeans and black leather boots, late Friday nights, fake ID in hand, I’d head downtown to destress and undo all the damage the pressures of the week demanded.

As the decade progressed, the Dome Room, along with its parent building main attraction The Lime Light became Excalibur and began to attract the suburban fraternity crowd, complete with Gap attire and a deep desire to drink.

All I wanted to do was dance. And lose myself in the music.

I began to attend other clubs, all with their own unique take on nocturnal hospitality, and one, I think it was Crobar, featured women dancing in cages. Seemed like in the mid-90’s each Chicago dance club tried to top itself and the stories as to what was going on at these clubs, as well as the pressure to get in, created its own midnight myth: you were either on the list or you weren’t.

Towards the end of the decade, as life began to stabilize, the urge to let it all go began to subside and, instead, just go somewhere and appreciate the groove. And, for whatever reason, I was on some sort of list, receiving hip invites to the latest club openings. Back then, these arrived in the mail, many in translucent envelopes, teasing the recipient with something glamorous and cool.  The address labels on my invitations didn’t even include my last name. Simply Alex and whatever address they had on me.

One night, when Liquid Kitty / Celluloid, a combination nightclub, mini concert hall and boutique movie theater (where you could enjoy a hip or classic film, drink a martini and eat hors d’oeuvres) hosted a special event, I arrived with two dates: my boyfriend at the time and my cousin. We originally waited in the line outside, but then I recognized Leddie Garcia, the percussionist from Poi Dog Pondering, having a smoke. Excited to see a band mate from a favorite band, and in the most natural desire to say hello yelled out, “Hey, Leddie, how’s it going?” Leddie looked around, spotted me and yelled back, acknowledging me. The security guys immediately opened the red velvet ropes, letting the three of us in.

“Smooth,” my boyfriend said.

“I wasn’t really even thinking about it. I just wanted to say hi.”

Once in, we found our spot at the bar. This was Spring 1997 and metrosexual men began to appear at these hip joints, with their highlighted hair, smooth skin, manicured nails and DKNY sweaters. These men weren’t even really in great shape, they were just very thin.

My two men happened to be military guys. Nothing metro about them. At one point, we left my cousin alone the mostly empty bar as he ordered his beverage and lit his cigarette. He wasn’t trying to get attention. He enjoyed his privacy and we both respected that, giving him his space.

After my boyfriend and I scanned the club, checked out all the rooms and perhaps enjoyed a dance or two, we headed back towards my cousin, only to find the bar stools near him filled with all kinds of beautiful women. These women had no interest in the metro men. They (like women today) wanted a manly man. And my cousin fit that role well.

Whether going with a boyfriend, on a blind date, with some girlfriends or even alone, dancing at these clubs offered a reprieve from reality. Once in the club, I surrendered to the hard bass, the pounding rhythms and the contagious grooves.

In the clubs, I was free.

This material is an excerpt from my new novella: The ’90s. Diary of a Mess

© Creative Cadence 2013.



  1. F says:

    Came across your post…. Been trying to find the name os a club from this era, and it’s been bugging the hell out of me, maybe you can help.

    They played trance, prog house, etc… Two levels. I just remember being upstairs all the time, where booths lined the walls and I was rolling nonstop.

    This was probably late 90s/early 2000. Think it was off f Lake St maybe….. Ugh

  2. cc says:

    Glow? Off of Clyborne?

  3. Kat says:

    I bet it was Karma!

  4. miker says:

    It say if it tonight of boothes…it’s gotta be Cairo or what it was none for 720…it had booths in the lower lever…

  5. miker says:

    I meant if it had tons of booths…it’s gotta be between two clubs drinks or Cairo on superior near Lasalle.

  6. Di says:

    Red No 5, Red Dog, Karma, Circus?

  7. admin says:

    I never made it to those!

  8. KevinS says:

    I remember one near a mural of Elvis Presley that was the first bar I went ever went to out of college. It was near a mural of Elvis Presley. Right next to it was a place where t people would spray confetti or something at each other. Anyway was narrow bar as you entered and very busy.. I thought maybe it was called Bamboo ?? At the end of the bar there was a single indoor volleyball court as you headed back to the dancefloor. It was not that big of a place but really busy on the weekends. I have asked but whenever I mention volleyball people mention a place that had several. This was just one volleyball court on left hand side as you entered between the bar at the front and the dancefloor at the back. Upstairs I think some sofas and you could look down on the dancefloor. Anyone remember this one?

  9. Bernardo Adame says:

    Could’ve of been Crobar or Excalibur

  10. Anml says:

    Nocturnal night club on lake street

  11. Big Gee says:

    Kinda remember all those places. How about Shelter, Kaboom, The China Club, Lucky’s, Funky Buddha, Le Passage, Pasha (the original one)

  12. Mike says:

    F says:
    April 3, 2015 at 3:55 am
    Came across your post…. Been trying to find the name os a club from this era, and it’s been bugging the hell out of me, maybe you can help.

    They played trance, prog house, etc… Two levels. I just remember being upstairs all the time, where booths lined the walls and I was rolling nonstop.

    This was probably late 90s/early 2000. Think it was off f Lake St maybe….. Ugh

    It was “TRANSIT”!!!!

  13. Mark Grant says:

    KevinS. The night club you’re talking about was called the Big Nasty. I believe invented the original Jell-O shot using ‘grain alcohol’ instead of vodka.. I knew one of the owners of the cub and the other one also owned the EXIT. A buddy of mine brother was one of the owners.. if we were regular in the Cub seen back then including the original Medusa’s /Smart bulb, metro , etc.. across the street from the Big Nasty was ‘Esoteria’one of our big Hangouts

  14. Kimi Harvey says:

    SHELTER. EXIT. NEO. SMART BAR. METRO. RED DOG. KABOOM. punkrockers. Club kidz. DJ. Acid jazz. Deep house. after hour parties Omg i LOVED CHICAGO in the 90s

  15. L says:


  16. Angie P says:

    Trying to remember this club in chicago Friday night was litttt..It was inside a hotel on the top floor off of Michigan ave downtown, cant remember the name back in the 90’s but all I remember was u walk into the hotel lobby and walk up the stairs to get into the club…Damnn what this name ? Ughhhh

  17. Jen says:

    Does anyone remember the club Cody Coyotes in Bloomingdale a suburb of Chicago? It’s killing me to remember what they changed their name to after they shut down. This was around the early 90s. Does anyone remember Vortex? My friend Steve and I went there every weekend! Best memories!!!

  18. Erica says:

    Cairo! No one remember this?! The VIP booths in the basement… ultimate cool.

  19. Shar says:

    Who remembers Essetero in Chicago? Not sure about the spelling

  20. Lea says:

    Elixir Nightclub in the 90’s… fun!

  21. Elizabeth says:

    What was the name of the dance club on 63rd & Harlem in Chicago in 1989-the early 90’s

  22. Robert says:

    Prime and tender on 63rd and Harlem became studio 63

  23. Robert says:

    Prime and tender became studio 63

  24. Niko says:

    Does anyone recall a trance club named Hell? It was off of Division near 90? I think it was in 1999 or 2000?!?!

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