BUCKTOWN — If you’ve ever dared to dream of a wall full of dozens of singing plastic fish … dream no longer.
The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club will soon install 30-60 Billy Basses, singing “Jaws” sharks and musical lobsters as part of a decorative wall at the eclectic bar at 1750 N. Milwaukee Ave. The plastic creatures will sync up and sing yacht rock songs to customers who are passing by.
Ashley Albert, a cofounder of the Florida-themed club, said she always has a “passel of harebrained ideas mulling around.” The idea for a singing fish wall came to her when the club’s staff was trying to figure out what to put on a wall; one idea led to another until Albert was searching for plastic game fish and the Billy Bass popped up.
The team bought a Billy Bass online to test it out and learned they could program it to play music and speak.
“It’s terrifying,” Albert joked.
But then Albert wondered if she could wire together more of the singing fish so they could work together.
“‘We should make them sing yacht rock,'” Albert thought. “And then, because I’m living a ridiculous life, I mentioned it to a friend who said, ‘Oh, I know a guy who could do that for you.'”
The team reached out to everyone they could think of to ask if they had any old Billy Basses left over from when the oddball decoration was more popular.
Albert “put out an APB: ‘Does anyone have an uncle who has one dusty in the corner of the game room that you could just quietly take it off a wall and your uncle won’t even notice that it’s gone … ?'” she said. “So many people were like, ‘I feel like we had one, but let me go look and see if it’s still on my wall … .”
As it turns out, many people did find Billy Basses, and some of them even had interesting variations: a Christmas Billy Bass, a catfish, a lobster, a great white shark from “Jaws.” Albert is going to include those more unique ones to mix up the wall.
The fish will ultimately pay tribute to the types of unique Floridians who do keep Billy Basses for decoration and fun, which is “a part of Florida [the club hasn’t] represented yet,” Albert said.
“This is one more vision of Florida as I see it,” said Albert, whose childhood in Miami has inspired the decorations and atmosphere of Royal Palms. “It’s just one big homage to my hometown.”
It’s also been fun for the staff to come up with songs for the fish to sing, Albert said. They’re focused on yacht rock — which “covers all the smooth, easy, breezy listening from the ’70s,” Albert said — which means customers should expect the fish to sing Doobie Brothers, Hall and Oates and Steely Dan, among others.
The flashy fishes will go up on the wall along the bar’s staircase leading to its rooftop. There will be up to 60 singing fish there, though Albert’s not sure yet how many will make it.
Because fewer customers will head to the rooftop as the weather chills, Albert is considering adding an incentive to the top of the staircase so more people can experience the fish wall. She’s thinking of applying for a grant to get an Art-o-Mat, a repurposed vending machine that would sell art from local creators.
Albert hopes to have the fish wall installed on Sept. 28.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.