The Three Arts Club of Chicago And The Way Things Come Back Around

As I walked north on Dearborn Avenue yesterday to meet a student, I passed a red brick building on the west side of the 1300 block that felt eerily familiar. I slowed my stroll to read the sign fronting the valet stand. “3 Arts Club Cafe.” I knew I would run into this place sooner or later.

I stayed here for a week once, in 1999, before it was a cafe. Now that I’ve moved here I think I see it everywhere. Yesterday I actually did.

The Three Arts Club of Chicago was a home and club for women to pursue music, painting, and drama that was founded in 1912 and that endured until 2004. Developers bought it in 2007, and now it sells sandwiches. During its twilight it rented its space to visiting groups. Like the YMCA.

That’s what brought me. It was an orientation for my first job. Fresh off a year as an overseas church volunteer and only two years removed from college, I was hired to direct the Kansas City YMCA’s installation of a national Y effort backed by money from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Rock The Vote, and Do Something to up the civic engagement of 18-29-year-old young adults. Other sites were in Oakland, Seattle, Blacksburg, Dallas, and Minneapolis, and all of us directors joined the national YMCA staff at this funky spot on Chicago’s Near North Side to learn what we were supposed to be doing.

It was mostly chaos. The young gun they’d hired to coordinate the national program was a hot head. He talked too much, and when we took in a Second City show he tried to sneak in. He had history with the co-directors from Seattle, and by the third day he was openly scheming to have them fired. Mutiny ensued, and though the hot head made it through the end of the week he was replaced a couple of months later.

The Three Arts Club of Chicago hosted the disastrous commencement of my first job, yet seeing it 17 years later, in the opening act of another new job, filled me with nostalgia and kind of made me marvel at the circular nature of the universe and how things have a way of coming back around.


My boss and another colleague were there for that week too. At the end of the week they bought me a T-shirt and mug from the Caribou Coffee we escaped to daily to commiserate. As far as I can tell that’s gone too, and so is the T-shirt. But I still have the mug.

Meet a lot of people, do the work to keep up with them, good things happen.

So says Courtney, aka, my college friend’s Oklahoma friend with the church camp friend who posted about the Golden Ticket upstairs Chicago apartment for rent in his building last week. 

Good things indeed. We found our place. Even though we can’t move in until July, it’s a no-brainer: lots of room and light within our budget two blocks from a terrific school and a downstairs neighbor who is one of my people’s people. Done.

See? The people you know, all the things you do to keep up with them, they pay dividends, both for you and for people you care about. So check in on someone today whom you haven’t heard from in a minute. Send a text. Make a call. Order a gift. These are more than gestures. They’re infrastructure for all the good things wanting to happen.

Three Types of Apartments

I’m training for the Olympics looking for an apartment in Chicago. We’re targeting the attendance zone of a neighborhood school that teaches French, so I’ve spent the last seven days walking all over Lincoln Park, inspecting 2 bedroom apartments, meeting landlords, and scouring the streets for that elusive black rectangular sign with the orange lettering in bold typeface declaring “For Rent.”

I’ve distilled apartments down to three types. I list them here in order of desirability. This typology holds everywhere I’ve ever lived.

The worst apartment you can rent is the one listed by a property management company that also manages 37 other buildings in town and whose leasing agent saunters up 15 minutes late, wavy hair protruding from beneath a Patagonia beanie, looking like nobody more than Kyle Mooney, to show you a garden basement apartment and answer all your questions with, “Yeah,” “Nah,” and “For sure.” These buildings are dimly-lit, and the hallways are littered with empty beer kegs. No bueno.

The high rise is a dramatic improvement over this fist type, because it’s managed by people who live on site and with whom you will interact every day. You probably can’t afford it. If you could, you might smart at paying rent toward an on-site fitness center and massage therapist. Or you might not, since this IS TOTALLY THE YEAR YOU’RE GOING TO RUN A MARATHON.

Renting from an individual who owns a piece of property is clearly the best way to go. I’ve done this at two different properties in Kansas City and two in California with great success. Look, you’re a catch. Who wouldn’t want to rent to you? People who are renting their own brick and mortar will appreciate you far more than Ned in the Leasing Office, and as a result you may be able to negotiate on rent. The first place we rented after seminary was owned by a couple who were members of a local Presbyterian church and who were willing to collect $300 less per month for the peace of mind that comes from renting to a Presbyterian minister (who left communion wine stains on the carpet!).

Finding these places takes tireless scouring the abundant online rental property space, but that’s another, more irritated, post (I’m looking at you, Domu).