It looks almost like any other neighborhood hardware store now, but a few aesthetic giveaways reveal this shop’s former life as “Chicago’s Brightest Pleasure Spot,” the heart of the Windy City’s jazz scene.
The Meyers Ace Hardware in Chicago’s historically black Bronzeville used to be the Sunset Cafe jazz club, which hosted some of the best black performers of the 1920s and ’30s.
Cab Calloway got his start at the club, and Louis Armstrong played there often as his manager owned it. Gene Krupa and Benny King played there too. Earl “Fatha” Hines would broadcast live performances from the club when it became known as the Grand Terrace (and was also owned by Al Capone). Later, Sun Ra and his orchestra performed three shows a night for a stretch of time. The club’s clientele were referred to as “black and tans,” because it was patronized by both black and white audiences. It was a rare site of admiration for black culture free from segregation (if a bit exoticizing on the part of white patrons).
Many of the decorations and memorabilia from Chicago’s 1920s jazz age are preserved back in the break room. Those interested in seeing it should ask for manager David Meyers, whose family bought the building from Satchmo’s manager Joe Glaser in 1960. Meyers is aware of how special this place is. While he earns his living running the hardware store, he wants to maintain the history of the Sunset Cafe as well as boost his tourist appeal. The building was granted landmark status in 1998, so the what’s left of the Sunset Cafe will be preserved amidst the paint supplies and lawnmowers for years to come.
Update 2017: The Meyers family recently closed the business, and there was a “jazz funeral” farewell in March 2017 at which George Freeman, 90-year-old blues guitarist, played. The building has been sold, and is now a beauty supply store called Urban Beautique. There is a small plaque commemorating the Sunset Cafe on the east side of the building.
Update 20222: The back wall that separated the break room from the store has been removed. The mural can now be seen from the store floor, without any special access.
Know Before You Go
Meyers Ace Hardware is on the southwest corner of 35th and Calumet.