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Nightshop Adds To Surging Twin City Music Scene

Longtime local musician and promoter Chris Golwitzer realized a dream this month when he opened Nightshop on the north end of downtown Bloomington.

He wanted to connect the dots between the larger rooms in Bloomington-Normal and the independent, underground D.I.Y. scene that often play in basements, kitchens, and garages.

“But we’ve also booked some larger acts,” said Golwitzer, speaking in what used to be an apartment kitchen on the second floor of the building that previously housed Main Street Bar & Grill at 517 N. Main St.

“Not necessarily acts that would fill a place like the Castle Theatre, but certainly artists that would draw 100, 150, 200,” said Golwitzer.

Chris Golwitzer, left with managing business partner Matt Spears leaning on the bar of the Nightshop.
Chris Golwitzer, left, with managing business partner Matt Spears leaning on the bar inside Nightshop.

The buzz in the local music scene has included excitement about Nightshop. That charge has been palpable since early last year, and especially since last fall, Golwitzer’s original target date to open. He said eight bands had already played before the official opening as a restaurant/music venue barely a week ago. That includes a Grateful Dead tribute band, a punk show, an alt-country/folk show and a hip-hop/electronic show and a metal show. That’s a wide spectrum, and a fair representation of what he’ll be offering in the year to come.

“Where we come into some exclusivity is that we’re trying to primarily cater to original music,” said Golwitzer.  

Walk through the venues front doors off Main Street during the daytime and Nightshop will show as a classy, well-lit restaurant. Indeed Golwitzer says the lunch and dinner menu serves high-end bar food that includes vegetarian, vegan and omnivore fare, as well as local and national craft beer and spirits.

At night, the room is cleared of tables and chairs, and despite the punk, metal, and hard-rock shows that will dominate the bills, Nightshop looks like a classy, big-city jazz club. The stage just behind large windows facing Main Street frames the live music for pedestrians walking by. It’s not unlike the WGN radio studios on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, where you can watch announcers do their live shows.

Nightshop was an ambitious vision that required a significant financial investment, not to mention time and money, to realize. Golwitzer believed in the club because he thought it would attract music fans from other central Illinois cities, including Peoria, Champaign-Urbana, and Springfield, as well as Bloomington-Normal.

Downswing performing at the Nightshop.
Credit Chris Golwitzer
Downswing performing at the Nightshop.

“Even Chicago and St. Louis,” said Golwitzer. “You could go see an act in Chicago that’s playing in a big room. But if they played a couple hours south on the same tour, and you could see them in a room of 150 or 200 people instead … a room where they’re also hanging out with you and you meet the artist … that’s a pretty good experience that people will absolutely want to take part in.”  

He also notes central Illinois' primo location as a crossroads of bands traveling between Chicago and St. Louis, as well as east-west along Interstate 74 as a selling point to get those bands to make Bloomington-Normal a stop along the way.

“In addition, you have the colleges, young professionals, and even middle aged and older generations who all love (live) music,” said Golwitzer. “We’re trying to be a place for everyone. And because we’re a restaurant, we have the capability of being ‘all-ages’ until 10 p.m. We’re doing a lot of music beginning at 7 p.m. so high school kids can come here if they want to.”

Golwitzer is also able to draw on his years as a traveling musician to offer an added incentive for draw touring bands: Amenities. 

“I know how it feels to be treated well when you play somewhere. And you don’t have to go overboard to treat someone well. You just respect what they want,” said Golwitzer.

Such as?

“If a band is playing here and they need to do laundry, they can do that here,” said Golwitzer, alluding to the washer/dryer left behind in the second floor apartment soon to transform into a luxurious green room for artists. There’s also a shower.

But he really lights up when discussing Nightshop's stage and state-of-the-art sound system he knows other artists will appreciate.

“It feels great to sound great,” said Golwitzer. “For a room of this size, we went over the top in putting in a good sound system and lighting. Whether you’re a small band that’s only played in your basement or one that has played all over the place, you’re going to have the same sort of experience.”

Golwitzer is banking that it's an experience bands will want to return to. And that helps word get around.

“If you take care of a group on tour and their agent hears about it, they’re going to try to run the rest of their roster through that area. Also, bands have friends in other bands,” said Golwitzer.

His dream is now reality. Bands are playing regularly and complimenting Golwitzer on the sound and amenities. Music fans are complimentary. Food is being served and being commented about favorably. It's early, and despite the later than hoped for opening, a green room and outdoor patio that need to be built, Nightshop seems to have hit the ground running. Golwitzer is beaming.

This is no dive bar.

"No it's not," he said. "It turned out better than we could have possible imagined."

Listen to the entire interview with Chris Golwitzer and GLT's Jon Norton.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.