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A scene at Underground, 56 W. Illinois St. The River North nightclub is closing after 17 years in business. Credit: Facebook/Underground

RIVER NORTH — When Underground opened in 2007, it quickly became the nightlife spot in Chicago.

The subterranean club in River North was a magnet for visiting celebrities — think Justin Bieber, David Beckham, Aaron Paul, Katy Perry, John Mayer, Duran Duran and Channing Tatum — along with professional sports players and local celebs like Chance the Rapper, who hung out until the wee hours of the morning in the carefree, pre-social media days.

Those days, and Underground, are no more. The club at 56 W. Illinois St. is closing its doors this week to become a dedicated private events space, co-founder Billy Dec said Tuesday in a statement on Underground's website and Instagram.

“We have been blessed to be able to collaborate with the best, to serve Chicagoans and our visitors, incredible and unforgettable experiences and memories. I’m left in absolute admiration for our community and what we created together,” Dec said in the statement.

While Chicagoans are losing a River North nightlife mainstay, Dec said he's preparing to open Underground Cocktail Club in Nashville, with a grand opening set for May 31.

“We are so humbled, honored, excited and proud to be able to share a piece of our Chicago original in new markets to come,” Dec said in the statement.

The news comes a day after Hub 51, another high-profile River North restaurant at 51 W. Hubbard St., announced it was closing June 8 to make way for two new concepts.

Dec, along with then-partners Arturo Gomez and Brad Young of Rockit Ranch, founded Underground in the former Harry’s Velvet Room.

The trio’s first venture, Rockit Bar & Grill, 22 W. Hubbard St., which opened in 2004, had already become a celebrity hangout — perhaps fueled by Dec’s relationship with “The Bachelorette”’s Jen Schefft.

Later, the Rockit group’s Sunda restaurant, serving a “New Asian” menu, created a buzz of its own.

Taking inspiration from its basement-level location, Underground was designed to look like a military bomb shelter, a theme which carried over to the camo-printed onesies female servers wore. Bottle service was part of the 300-person nightclub's vibe, too.

Perhaps the biggest thing that set Underground apart from its competitors was its approach to bringing in talent, both nationally recognized and under the radar, throughout the evening.

Underground co-founder Billy Dec with soccer superstar David Beckham and singer Katy Perry, two of the many celebs spotted at Dec's River North nightclub over the years. Credit: Provided

“It was all about having another layer of entertainment,” said Jamie Weil, who booked special events for Underground as part of its opening in-house PR team. “Programming was a big part of Underground and it was always about having something going on.”

Weil, who worked at Underground for more than four years before starting her own agency, remembers booking singer Katy Perry, who was in town for the 2008 Vans Warped Tour and whose song “I Kissed a Girl” had just been released.

A day earlier, the DJ Mark Ronson, in town for Lollapalooza, did a surprise set at Underground with musician Kenna, Weil said. Ronson’s sister, Samantha, and her then-girlfriend, the actress Lindsay Lohan, canoodled in a corner of the club.

Pop star Justin Bieber walked the catwalk during a fashion show at Underground in 2016. Credit: Facebook/Underground

A few years later, Bruno Mars performed at Underground while in town for Lolla, Weil said.

“We really wanted to take advantage of Lollapalooza being in town,” Weil said.

Underground eventually added fashion shows as part of the night’s lineup, often with a guest model or two — including Bieber in 2016.

Dec closed Rockit Bar & Grill in 2019 after 15 years in business. Sunda, meanwhile, has grown to four locations: the original at 110 W. Hubbard St. in River North, 333 N. Green St. in Fulton Market, and locations in Nashville and Tampa.

Dec declined to comment beyond the statement issued online.

“I think that as everybody gets older, it's really hard to understand the next generation and what they want,” Weil said on Underground’s closing. “The culture has changed now with so many great cocktail lounges in Chicago.”


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