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Local Column

Heimerman: Save The House Café, stay weird, DeKalb

Save The House Café!

What a poser I am. Fact is, I’ve gone there a few times for coffee or a delicious artisan sandwich, but I’ve never seen a musical act there.

It’s not my fault! I went and had kids and lost my edge. Once they go to bed, the wife and I hang out. It’s awesome. Seriously, is there anything better than “Ozark” on Netflix, sweatpants and a cheeseboard? High life, people.

But this modern routine is worlds apart from my idea of a good time during my college days at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

And this is why I can’t understand how we got here, DeKalb.

How is it the only dedicated music venue in a college town can’t make money? I get that Milwaukee dwarfs the Barb City, but there’s a music venue on a few corners in virtually every neighborhood in that city. I saw so many great bands at iconic clubs such as The Cactus Club and Shank Hall, to which we devotedly drove about 15 minutes on the regular. There was The River Horse (R.I.P., River Horse, which has since closed), about a mile’s walk from my near-campus apartment. We drank in the music, and other things, and dealt with the next morning, when our clothes reeked of smoke from hanging out for hours in a venue with little or no ventilation.

(An aside: Smoky-stink clothes can’t be the cause of The House Cafe’s potential demise, obviously.)

And here’s the thing: Most of the bands we saw weren’t major-label acts – if they were on a label at all. It was just fun to get out and hear some music I’d never heard before – get weird for a while, step outside the comfort zone.

Here’s hoping, as The House Café’s owner Mark Robinson predicts, the venue will reopen (yet again) with a new name, some changes, but still as a music venue after its liquor license expires, the doors are shuttered and the building is sold.

Typing that last sentence gave me the chills. Anytime a music venue, record store or outspoken blogger folds, an angel loses its wings … or something like that.

So, save The House Café! It’s seen some really cool acts, folks. The first weekend we lived in town, Charly Bliss played The House Café, fresh off the release of “Guppy,” one of the best debut albums of 2017.

Sadly, I didn’t go. I think we were coordinating towels for the bathroom. But we’ve been over this. I’m happy as Domesticated Dan, absorbing my musical experiences exclusively through earbuds and screens. As I said, in the immortal words of our president … Sad!

This isn’t exclusively a call to action for Northern Illinois University students, questioning why they don’t get downtown to hear live music. Really, it’s more of a lament that drawing students downtown, and making it easier to get them there, is an ongoing struggle for DeKalb. The House Café has been closed, sold and reopened multiple times over the past several years. What a grind, all for the love of music, yeah?

Hopefully it’s a struggle that will wane, as the downtown is revitalized.

It’s cool that renovations at Hometown Sports Bar & Grill will allow the local favorite establishment to host live music. My gut tells me they won’t bring in many bands from off the beaten path – those weird bands the kids like to listen to.

While I wait to see how this plays out, I should remind you The House Café will have a going-away bash April 30. Hey, maybe I’ll even come out and see it. We could get a baby-sitter and everything. It’ll be like old times … and hopefully the music starts early enough that I can be home by 10 and get my tight eight hours of sleep.

• Christopher Heimerman is the editor at the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at

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