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Lincoln Park, Old Town

B.L.U.E.S. On Halsted, Which Has Been Closed Since Pandemic Began, Is For Sale And Might Not Return

The beloved blues bar has hosted notable musicians like Little Smokey Smothers, Big Walter Horton, Sunnyland Slim, Bonnie Lee, Big Time Sarah, Otis Rush and Koko Taylor.

B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, which never reopened after the pandemic shut non-essential businesses down in March 2020, is for sale, its general manager confirmed Wednesday.
Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — Beloved blues bar B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, which has been closed since the pandemic shut nonessential businesses down in March 2020, is for sale.

Owner Rob Hecko has tried to sell B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted St., for the last four to five years so he can retire, but he recently hired a Realtor to help in the search for a new owner, general manager Jen Littleton told Block Club Wednesday.

“We’ve been trying to reach out to people in the community who we knew just so somebody could keep it as B.L.U.E.S. to keep it alive for our staff and musicians,” said Littleton, who’s worked at the bar since 1994. “The only difference now is a Realtor has been hired, and our hope is still that it stays B.L.U.E.S., but it may or may not.”

The property including the bar is listed for $915,000.

Hecko and Bill Gillmore opened B.L.U.E.S. in 1979 a few years after Hecko graduated from DePaul University, Littleton said. Hecko and his family bought the building in 1977 and first used it to open an 18-and-over college bar named Omni.

But when the drinking age was raised in 1979, Hecko needed to figure out a new audience for the bar. At the same time, Gillmore’s nearby blues bar, Elsewhere, was losing its lease, Littleton said. So the two business owners partnered to open B.L.U.E.S. in Omni’s space.

“B.L.U.E.S. has always been a musician-driven bar, and we’ve always tried to keep the musicians and the music at the forefront,” Littleton said. “That was really important to Rob and I, and we’re proud the bar has fostered this community that’s turned into a family.”

Since opening, B.L.U.E.S. has grown to become a staple within Chicago’s blues music community, hosting notable musicians like Little Smokey Smothers, Big Walter Horton, Sunnyland Slim, Bonnie Lee, Big Time Sarah, Otis Rush and Koko Taylor, Littleton said.

“I could go on and on because anybody who was in the Chicago blues scene hung out there and played there,” Littleton said. “I always knew we were amongst living history.”

The bar would also host annual birthday celebrations for Jimmy Johnson, a famous blues musician who died Jan. 31, Littleton said.

“I think one of the most special times I can remember in recent history at the bar was one of Jimmy Johnson’s birthday parties,” Littleton said. “It was at least his 90th birthday, if not after that.”

The night was particularly memorable because it brought in a lot of younger musicians who performed to honor Johnson at his celebration, Littleton said.

“All these young cats came up and performed, and I always loved that dynamic of the younger guys paying respect to the older people and vice versa,” Littleton said. “People at the bar were very much aware of the passing of the torch, and that was always a special thing to me. That’s how you keep the tradition of blues alive and teach life lessons.”

Since news that the bar is for sale started circulating on social media, Littleton and Hecko have received tons of messages from locals saying how much they loved the bar, she said.

“It’s just amazingly touching to both me and Rob to see how much people loved B.L.U.E.S.,” Littleton said. “We always kind of knew that, but thought we were the ones who loved it the most. The outpouring has made it clear that there are a lot of people who just love that place.”

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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