5:09 PM CST, February 13, 2012
A major new venue will arrive on the Chicago concert scene this summer, and it’ll be booked by one of the local music community’s most respected figures.
City Winery Chicago, which is scheduled to open a 300-seat concert hall in the West Loop by late July, announced Monday that it has hired Colleen Miller as its program director. Miller, 47, has worked as the primary talent buyer at the Old Town School of Folk Music for the last 17 years, and previously booked and managed the Coronet Theatre in Evanston and co-owned Biddy Mulligan’s.
“It’s a classic case of going to New York and falling in love with the venue,” Miller said of City Winery, which has been thriving in New York since 2008. The venue is expected to book 200 shows a year, including multi-night residencies by musicians and singer-songwriters spanning genres such as rock, folk and jazz.
Though the concert venue, part of a 30,000-square-foot restaurant-and-winery complex at 1200 West Randolph Street, will be competing with Old Town and other venues such as Lincoln Hall, Space in Evanston and the Park West for certain artists, Miller says Chicago is a vibrant concert town that will have no problem accommodating another well-run club.
“This room will be different from the others in that the focus is very much on food and beverage,” she said. “This is a niche that is very much about the type of customer who loves wine and music.”
Modeled after its predecessor in New York, City Winery Chicago will boast a world-class 450-bottle wine list and a dinner menu that is aimed at working couples who want to blend “cultural and culinary experiences without having to choose one over the other,” said Michael Dorf, the venue’s owner.
“It works so well in music I was really shocked,” Miller said of the New York venue. “They put a lot of effort into customer-service training. There is no clatter -- it’s not like you’re in a diner. It’s actually a surprisingly good listening room. I would expect the same in Chicago. A lot of people would love to leave the house at 7:30 to go to dinner and see a show and be home by 11. This is the world we live in. They can get a lot in, in a shorter time. It intrigues me as a way to do it all.”
Bau Graves, executive director of Old Town, said he's just begun to search for Miller's replacement. "Colleen is a hard act to follow," he said.
It's inevitable that Old Town and other established venues will be competing for some of the same acts with City Winery, he added, but doesn't see it necessarily driving anyone out of business. "I don't know that music will necessarily be the big draw there, but as a wine lover myself, I'm intrigued by what they have to offer," he said.
Dorf, who booked the Knitting Factory in New York before opening City Winery, acknowledged that “there will be an overlap with certain artists who play City Winery in New York and we hope will play City Winery Chicago instead of House of Blues, Park West, Old Town or Space.”
But he thinks there is room for cooperation, and suggested that artists who play City Winery could also possibly do a master class or other educational seminar at Old Town while they’re in town. Graves said that he and Miller have had some initial discussions “along those lines” but that nothing has been confirmed.
“I hope we’re not seen purely as a competitor,” Dorf said, “but as someone who helps bring some other things to Chicago that maybe wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I hope we add to the pie and not just divide it up.”