DeKALB – Tom Schmidt was the first one to grab his guitar, open up the big garage doors overlooking Lincoln Highway, and perform on Stage Left of Hometown Sports Bar & Grill's new expansion, which opened Oct. 18.
Contrary to Hometown's sports-centric vibes, where Sunday football, chicken wings and beer make for a lively weekend spot, owner Schmidt said the new space, called "Stage Left," 249 E. Lincoln Highway, which connects to Hometown, 241 E. Lincoln Highway, is meant to be an homage to blues and music bars in downtown Chicago or Nashville, Tennessee.
"It's still just an extension," Schmidt said of the new space, which will have the same menu offerings as Hometown. "But I wanted to have something where you could come with your wife, have a glass of wine, maybe a pizza, kind of chill. Not everybody's into sports, but I think pretty much everyone is into music."
Stage Left offers live music, comedy shows and other live entertainment – to add to the bar’s already popular, twice-weekly karaoke nights and magician shows. The space, which also can be rented out for events such as weddings and parties, includes more tables and a bar area where Hometown patrons can spill over into, two restrooms, and a 400-square-foot outdoor patio and deck area for the warmer months. Including the deck, the space can hold more than 200 people, Schmidt said.
The overhaul of Stage Left ended up costing more than expected, Schmidt said, with wiring and electrical work he retrofitted into the space. He took out both sides of drywall himself with a sledgehammer to reveal the original brick walls from the early 1900s when it was a shoe shop, and said the city's $150,000 in tax increment finance money helped.
On March 25, the DeKalb City Council approved $150,000 in surplus funds from the tax increment financing district known as TIF 2. The city’s contribution accounted for less than 27% of the total project cost, which Schmidt initially estimated at almost $560,000.
Irish singer Stevie Craig, based out of Chicago, was the first official act during Stage Left's soft opening Oct. 18.
"We just opened up for a couple hours and kind of had a little social going on," Schmidt said.
The venue is already booked Thursdays and Fridays for the whole month of November, Schmidt said, and he hopes the space will be people's go-to for weekend music.
"Ultimately, I'd love to have open mic night, comedy night, blues night, jazz night," he said. "Where we could get four nights a week of entertainment. Obviously it would be nice to see multiple places downtown that would do this kind of stuff because then we'd have a destination instead of just having one person do it all."
Popular music destination The House Cafe shuttered its doors for good earlier this year, and Schmidt conceded he gets Stage Left could fill that music niche missing from downtown DeKalb's night life scene. He said he's been approached by patrons excited for him to "take over" the entertainment offering.
"I don't know if it's really a take over, but we want to contribute," he said. "If we had multiple venues – you go down to Nashville, etc., there's 10, 12 places and people bouncing all over all night. Hopefully that changes a little bit, but somebody had to start it."
Schmidt's band, Gallery, will make a few appearances at Stage Left, he said, and he wants to get some Northern Illinois University bands in there, too. His goal is to bring the big-city music scene to DeKalb.
"I don't know where you could go anywhere around here where you could keep your tab open and have completely different feels," he said. "The only place you can get that is Chicago, New York, LA, bigger cities."