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Judge orders Double Door out of longtime Wicker Park home

A Cook County judge on Thursday ruled that the owner of the iconic Wicker Park music venue must begin negotiations with his landlord to vacate the North Milwaukee Avenue location the club has inhabited since 1994. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

The Double Door is still open, but maybe just a crack.

A Cook County judge on Thursday ruled that the owner of the iconic Wicker Park music venue must begin negotiations with his landlord to vacate the North Milwaukee Avenue location the club has inhabited since 1994. But in a lengthy appeal for harmony between the two sides, Judge Orville Hambright Jr. noted those negotiations might also result in a deal that keeps Double Door open.

“In this case, [and] being an eternal optimist, maybe you all can work something out. Maybe somebody makes somebody an offer they can’t refuse,” Hambright told club owner Sean Mulroney and landlord Brian Strauss at an eviction hearing in the Daley Center, chastising two businessmen who had squared off at a trial last month.

“You can swoop this off my table. I know things have changed in the neighborhood, increased in value. All that has to be considered,” Hambright said. “And it can be figured out. You’ll have time to do it. Because you’re not going anywhere for a minute.”

Indeed, Hambright initially seemed open to letting Mulroney operate until the venue had exhausted its existing concert schedule, then balked when Mulroney said he has booked acts through March. Strauss moved to kick out Mulroney late last year, claiming Mulroney had failed to give proper notice that he intended to renew his lease in October.

Attorney William Dorsey (left) and Double Door landlord Brian Strauss talk to reporters outside the courtroom on Thursday. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times
Attorney William Dorsey (left) and Double Door landlord Brian Strauss talk to reporters outside the courtroom on Thursday. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

The two sides will return to court Aug. 4 when Hambright will rule on how much rent Mulroney must pay for however long the club remains open.

Outside the courtroom, Strauss said that the club won’t be open long — at least not in his building.

“Double Door’s been a longtime tenant of mine. Its time has come to an end. Now a new future will be coming up,” Strauss said. “We never forced ’em out. . . . Now we move on to another chapter.”

Mulroney sounded more optimistic about the future of the club, which has hosted acts ranging from an up-and-coming west suburban band called Starchildren — which would later rise to stardom as the Smashing Pumpkins — to the Rolling Stones.

But in the years since Double Door opened, rents and property values in Wicker Park have soared. While the legal dispute over the expired lease was pending, Strauss asked to increase the $22,000 per month Mulroney had been paying for the 5,000-square-foot space to $33,000.

Double Door club owner Sean Mulroney (left) leaves the courthouse with attorneys. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times
Double Door club owner Sean Mulroney (left) leaves the courthouse with attorneys. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Still, Mulroney said the judge’s ruling amounted to a win: Hambright could have ordered Double Door out within 30 days. The club owner said if he can’t reach a deal with Strauss, he will appeal Hambright’s ruling — a process that would likely stretch as long as the remaining time on the lease extension.

This is the third time Mulroney has negotiated a lease for the building at 1570-1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., including, Mulroney said, a handshake deal with Strauss’s father hashed out over Old Styles and later memorialized with a two-page contract.

“I get along with Brian fine. I’m friends with his dad, and his kids are great kids,” Mulroney said. “This is business. It’s not personal.”