The Chaser

Flying High: Air Show weekend, VIP-style »

Flashback! The New Adventures of the Old Limelight

Amalie Drury

It's my job to write about Chicago and all of its people, places and things. If it's new and it's cool, I'm checking it out.

She's Got Legs

Tina Turner with BJ Murray at Limelight, Chicago's ruling nightspot of the mid-'80s.

A confession or a plain old fact, depending on how you look at it: I've never stepped stiletto inside Excalibur, River North's mega haunted-house-like nightclub and perennial favorite of Schaumburg bachelorettes. 

Why not, you ask? Well, I guess the best answer is that I'm more of a lounger than a clubber, and Excalibur packs 'em in 3,000 at a time. (I cannot with the crowds. I really cannot.) 

But last week, during a conversation with Chicago artist Gary Weidner at Macy's Glamorama fashion show, I learned Excalibur has a past that's a little more recent and a whole lot wilder than the kind that earned the building its historic landmark designation. 

Gary: "Hey, did you hear about that Limelight reunion party at Excalibur next Sunday?" 

The Chaser: "Limelight? You mean the catering company that serves the delicious margarita popsicles?" 

Gary: "No, it was this nightclub from New York that was in the Excalibur building in the '80s. It used to be, like, the coolest club in Chicago. It's the 25th anniversary and they're having a party for all the people who worked and partied there."

The Chaser: "Really? There was a time before the bachelorette parties? That's difficult to envision, since I spent most of the '80s riding a school bus over rural roads and reenacting episodes of Little House on the Prairie."

Gary: "Yeah. You should come by on Sunday. I'll put you guys on the list." 

Gary told me he was in grad school at Indiana University when Limelight opened in 1985, so his only memories of the nightspot are from the time he drove up to the city visit a friend who took him there. "'Wow, this place is big!' That's what I thought," he said. "By the time I moved to Chicago, Limelight was long gone."

According to a 1986 story in the Chicago Tribune, Limelight was populated by the "demimonde, a borderline society of the night." Artists, poets, writers, musicians and "free-wheeling heirs and heiresses who don't have to get up too early" were its after-dark denizens.

Intrigued by the Studio 54-esque mystique of this club that was only open for three and a half glittering years, I put in a call to BJ Murray, the organizer of the reunion party and a Limelight alum (thanks to BJ for the vintage Limelight photos in the slideshow below).

"My stepbrother was the big boss there. My cousin built it. And me...well, I had the best years of my life running the VIP room at Limelight. At the time, it was the biggest and best place outside of City Hall!" Murray said, blaming his raspy voice on too much air-conditioning. "When we opened in 1985, we set this town on fire. There was nothing remotely like it in the Midwest--it was like a cross between Alice and Wonderland and Cirque du Soleil. There were 8,000 people waiting outside on opening night. We were completely out of alcohol by 1AM." 

Murray went on to tell me about his favorite Limelight night, a birthday-slash-post-Grammy bash for Tina Turner only four months after the club opened: "Tina was a recluse, she never went anywhere," he remembers. But Murray was friends with the boys in her band, and during a dressing room encounter before a concert in Champaign, Murray and the band convinced the singer show up at Limelight the next night. "After less than 24 hours, we ended up with a crowd of 3,300. This was in the days before cell phones. No one had computers. It was word of mouth. Oprah came, and she was just a local girl on TV--I didn't know who she was, so I didn't let her in the VIP room at first. Tina ended up staying all night." For Murray, just 25 at the time, "that night was a feather in my cap." 

There are plenty more stories where that one came from, and Murray is in from New York--where he's now a professional gambler who surfs the Atlantic City beach as often as possible--to celebrate with his old friends. Limelight closed in 1987, but the legend lives on this Sunday night from 7:30PM to 3:30AM. For $25, you'll get an open bar for the first hour, DJs, dancing and lots of looking back.

Attire? It's the '80s...anything goes. 

P.S. Speaking of anniversaries, my old neighborhood haunt in Lincoln Park, the River Shannon, turns 64 this weekend. The significance of this? The bar opened in 1946, making it a palindrome anniversary (46/64). Saturday drink specials from 6PM to 3AM include MGD 64 for $3, and Maker's Mark 46 for $4.

Attire: '40s best. Or just a T-shirt and jeans. 



Recent Posts


1 Comment

Dontstopbeleevin said:

default userpic local-auth auth-type-mt

If memory serves, I spent the late 80s bouncing between the Medusa and Limelight(flinching with financial panic every time I had to pay that obscenely expensive $7 cover charge at the latter). But I swear by the Light of St. Elmo's Fire, I had no idea I was part of a "demimonde borderline society of the night." Think I'll add the distinction to my resume.

Leave a Comment?

Some HTML is permitted: a, strong, em

What your comment will look like:


what will you say?

Related Topics

Most Active Pages Right Now on Facebook