Pumping Co. Closes from Fire Damage
Chicago people that’ve known me since college know this is pretty heartbreaking news. Pumping Co. & I go way back.
When I first moved here for school (I’ll never forget my mother in tears crying “I can’t believe I’m leaving you in this dump” – referring to pre-transformation Rogers Park and pre-Garanzini Loyola) Pumping Company was one of the first places I went.
I didn’t know one person in Chicago. Which is part of the reason I came here. But I quickly became great friends with my room mate (Kristopher Musgraves, who drew the shortest stick of all time along with me and was thrown into a lounge space converted into a freshman “dorm room”), Justin Hough Cuyler Hettich Brian Riordan.
Everybody in the school went to Hamiltons and only Hamiltons. Place was meh and got played out really quick. Even for freshmen.
One day (yes day, like 2pm) Brian took us down Broadway a few blocks past Hamilton’s to a spot his older brother had introduced him to. The Pumping Company.
The place was an eye sore.
But it was awesome.
It was decorated in an old Chicago Fire House theme complete with beer taps running through CFD Fire Hydrants. The bar tenders were degenerates who loved to talk shit, the bouncers should have been playing in the NFL but were way too nice of guys, and the “regulars” were all down on their luck guys whose better days had passed and you got the all too sad feeling this place and the people in it was all they had.
We were sold.
We hit it off with the place’s GM’s and head bartender’s Sean and Jeff from the get go and started going by all the time. And we brought friends. Lots of them. And most of them were girls. Young decent looking college aged girls which this place probably hadn’t seen since Kennedy was in office.
One thing lead to another and before we knew it we were throwing and “promoting” parties here once a week. And I was Deejaying.
Small aside here- After Highschool my plan was never to continue DJ’ing seriously. My friend Mariano Conte and I had a company in high school that we should have taken more seriously because for how young we were we made a fortune. I haven’t met many 16 year old’s that got to spin in 21+ nightclubs (behind curtains but still) or got booked for private school proms.
Before moving to Chicago I made the tough decision of selling all my equipment in order to save up some cash so I could buy textbooks. I told my new friends that I was a DJ in high school so they couldn’t tell Jeff and Sean quick enough that they should let me DJ and let us throw parties. Jeff and Sean seeing dollar signs couldn’t say yes fast enough.
So we had these totally obscene flyers printed up and litter the entire Lake Shore campus with them. I’m not going to say what kind of phrases were on these flyers but being the hot-shot marketer that I am these things were definitely eye catchers.
I call home to tell my mom that I think I found a job. She would never let me work in a bar and never knew I had ever stepped foot in a bar period or half the stuff I did so I think I lied and told her it was DJ’ing in the school’s cafeteria for events. So I needed new equipment again.
Like the little asshole I was I flew back to Boston and allowed my poor single mother to max out her credit card at Guitar Center on me so I could have these brand new mind blowing things called CDJ’s that were gonna save me THOUSANDS because I would be able to download music for free and just burn it now.
First party we threw there was a line down the street. And the next one and the one after that.
We got paid 200 bucks I think. Might have been less. Highway robbery. I was paid $80 to DJ for five hours and couldn’t have been happier.
As time went by Jeff and Sean told us they wanted us to stop doing parties on Friday’s and start doing them on Thursdays. Against Hamilton’s biggest night.
Hamilton’s did bananas numbers on Thursday nights.
Hamilton’s was SO popular on Thursday nights that even the big men on campus up the street at Northwestern Jeff Roehl and Ray Bogenrief used to slum it down to Rogers Park just to come.
We said yes and decided to go head to head with Hamilton’s and continued to on weekly basis for the next 2-3 years.
I honed my DJ game and learned basic marketing strategies (see- lowbrow) working here. I made peanuts in exchange for making these guys a fortune for 3 years. But being so poor I literally had to sleep on my friend’s couch for an entire semester those peanuts at the time felt like a fortune and helped me survive.
Made some amazing friends that worked there and frequented it. Fell in, then out, and back in love here.
I stopped playing here sometime my senior year when Jeff got fired and most of the old staff had left. Our core group of friends kinda grew apart. One got a fiance. One left school. I become tight with another group.
I had this misconception in my head that I’d never accomplish anything by continuing to DJ and wasting my time in a bar. If I wanted to be successful I needed to continue on my path to becoming a lawyer. So I said goodbye to Pumping Company and took a clerk position at a firm in the loop and joined the rat race at the young age of 21.
I made so little at that law firm that even with my student loans (I was paying my own way through school) I could barely afford to eat or feed my dog.
My senior year I worked full time 8-5 while somehow managing to be enrolled in school full time taking classes 5-10. I still don’t know how I did it, or how my dog didn’t run away.
A couple of months after we graduated, I realized I flat out didn’t have any money to afford to live and pay back loans. So while studying for the LSAT I sucked it up and slogged it back up to Rogers Park one day and asked for my job back.
The new GM, Hef, couldn’t have been happier to let me do a night a week.
My friends had moved on. My girlfriend was still in school there but not living in the area. So most nights there I’d be lucky to see a few faces I recognized besides the regulars that’d been coming there since before I moved to Chicago. At the end of the night I’d pack my stuff up and get back on the Redline and take it back downtown and pray I made it home alive.
The rest is history and eventually I was able to land bigger and better gigs outside of Rogers Park.
I may have grew out of it but I never turned my back on it or forgot about it. And they never forgot about me. It changed ownership a couple times but to this day I still get random tweets or FB messages from young Loyola student’s to the tune of “can’t believe you used to play at P.CO, me and my friends go there all the time and one of the bartender’s was telling us about how bad you used to be and how crazy the parties you threw were!”.
It’s always been on my list to buy this place down the road and restore it back to its old and dingy, but full of so much character self. Not to make a killing obviously but more so for memento’s sake. It’s sentimental. But not until I had a few other Chicago spots running smoothly first.
We just signed an LOI on our first Chicago location, a west side spot last month. And this fire might be just the thing to move my plans up a few years.
Time to give my realtor a call.
Original Article Here.