LOGAN SQUARE — For many musicians just starting out, booking a gig at one of the city’s premiere venues is daunting, if not impossible. But for years, there was The Mutiny, an unassuming dive bar and punk rock club tucked into a brick building on bustling Western Avenue that would welcome just about anybody who wanted to play.
“The vibe of generosity as a young musician was more than any other place in Chicago,” said musician Edd Nudd, who played at The Mutiny several times over the years.
The bar’s owner, Ed Mroz, who many credited with building the bar’s tight-knit community and for giving countless local bands and artists a stage, died this week after a long battle with prostate cancer.
Former employees, regulars and musicians said Mroz was an old-school Chicago guy who wanted the people around him to have fun — even if that resulted in debauchery, which, at The Mutiny, it often did until its closure in 2018.
The dive bar had a reputation for rowdy shows; musicians would tear down the ceiling or run around naked as they played — and Mroz would look the other way. One night, Mroz’s office went up in flames as a band was playing. Within two hours of firefighters putting out the blaze, the bar was open again, even with Mroz’s office charred.
“The bar did get trashed quite a bit by all of us, but it was all in good fun,” said Clare Kelly, a regular who produced a long-running comedy show at the bar. “And Ed was such a good sport about it.”
In her tribute to Mroz on Facebook, Kelly wrote, “The Mutiny was Ed’s party, and everyone was invited.”
Over the years, Mroz formed close relationships with regulars and employees, greeting them with a big smile and surprising them with cake on their birthdays. The bar had a familial atmosphere because of Mroz, regulars and employees said.
“The Mutiny was probably one of the first bars I went to legally,” Kelly said. “I felt right at home there right away. Ed was always super welcoming. When you opened the door, he’d give a big smile and say, ‘Sweetheart!'”
Aimee Roll, longtime bartender and booking agent at The Mutiny, considered Mroz a father figure. Roll said whenever she was having personal issues, Mroz was always there.
“He would say, ‘You know what: f*** ’em, you don’t have to live up to this standard … he would remind me of that. That meant so much to me.”
“I’m going to miss his booming voice, that man who would let me laugh at the top of my lungs, that I could scream at, fight with and laugh with two minutes later,” Roll said. “I’m going to miss the person who really allowed me to be me. He allowed a lot of people to be themselves.”
Countless bands, comedians and other artists graced The Mutiny’s stage during its 30-year run, some that went on to make it big or some that were already well established like British punk band The Mekons. Mroz didn’t book the acts himself, but his hospitality — any musician or artist was welcome — became the bar’s defining philosophy.
“The Mutiny was a place where every walk of life was in that bar at the same time,” Kelly said. “There were nights where I’d have our friend Charlie, a crossing guard who lived across the street, doing standup and then three standups later it’d be Hannibal Buress — before Hannibal made it.”
Most often, though, the bar was home to local musicians who struggled to “get into the Bottom Lounges and The Metros of the world,” Nudd said.
Nudd said he remembers playing a relatively packed show there in the mid-2000s because it was the first time he got paid “serious money” to play a show. He said Mroz paid him three times as much as he was making at other venues.
“I always got the impression from Ed that he loved what he did and he loved the fact that musicians were playing there,” Nudd said. “He respected the musicians. He just wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time.”
As the years went on, and as Logan Square started attracting more luxury apartments and cocktail bars, Mroz became sentimental for the way things used to be, regulars and employees said. Despite the city mandate, he didn’t get a public place of amusement license and instead asked for donations at the door. He would talk your ear off about how Chicago’s smoking ban ruined the bar industry. Roll said he sometimes struggled to connect with new patrons.
Mroz was diagnosed with prostate cancer about five years ago. The diagnosis came around the same time he started to struggle financially, Roll said. He tried to sell the bar, but those plans never materialized, she said. During that period, he had a new catch phrase: “If I had a good day, it would be my last,” Roll and others said.
It wasn’t until November 2018, after rumors had been swirling for months, that Mroz announced the permanent closure of The Mutiny. Between his declining health and his stack of unpaid bills, Mroz, then 68, felt it was time to close up shop.
“Some people survive and thrive, which I did for many years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but I lost my ability to keep fighting,” Mroz told Block Club at the time.
In recent months, Mroz’s health declined to the point where he started receiving chemotherapy, Roll said. This week he died peacefully in his sleep with longtime employees by his side, she said.
Block Club was not able to reach Mroz’s family members, but Roll said Mroz grew up in Chicago an only child and his parents died young. She said growing up he fell in love with music watching his father, a polka musician, perform.
“The family he never had he created with us,” Roll said.
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