Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Louis Armstrong and the Hardware Store

Jazz buffs often seek out Meyers Ace Hardware store (315 E 35th St) in Bronzeville. Why? Because in the 1920s and 30s the building was the Sunset Cafe, where all the greats gigged. Imagine Louis Armstrong blowing his trumpet over by the socket wrenches. Or Earl Hines hammering the piano, down in the plunger aisle. And that was just the house band. Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey and Bix Beiderbecke all launched their careers at the Sunset.

"We've had people come in and hug the wall posts, saying they wanted to get close to the music," says David Meyers, owner of the store, which has sold supplies here for roughly 50 years. 

While Chicago landmarked the building, there's no hint of its past life - no plaque marking the spot or jazz tchotchkes for sale. But if Meyers is around and not too busy, he'll take you into the back office that was once the stage. The original, red-tinged mural of jazz players splashes across the wall. He'll bring out a box of yellowing news articles about the club and Armstrong's sheet music. He'll tell you about the German musicians who insisted on recording an album right smack in his office. He'll even autograph a plunger for you.

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