For almost a decade, the Listening Room at the Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake has served as a music and entertainment venue.
But over the past few months, the space in the mansion’s basement has been re-imagined as a speakeasy-style music lounge, to be renamed Lou’s later this year, said Erin McElroy, chief relations officer for the Dole.
The lounge’s soft opening has included private events and pop-up music shows since the beginning of this year, beginning with Sara Jean Stevens in early February. It will officially open to the public in the fall to coincide with Winter at the Dole, McElroy said.
Barbara Bouboutsis, the lead singer and pianist for the local band BB and the Hive, has been rehearsing in the new space.
“There’s a special energy in this room,” she said. “I just like the vibe in here. It feels like you have an audience even when this room is empty. The sound fills the room without much amplification.”
The venue’s fall schedule is set to be released shortly after the Lakeside Festival next week, McElroy said.
Blues guitar singer Jimmy Nick is expected to perform at a pop-up event in late July before his Music Under the Trees performance on Aug. 18.
Proceeds from events, as they did before the pandemic, will fund the Dole’s preservation, Niequist said.
The Listening Room renovation is meant to commemorate both the 20th anniversary of the Lakeside Legacy Foundation — which maintains the Dole — and the 100-year-anniversary of Eliza “Lou” Ringling’s purchase of the mansion and the subsequent founding of the Crystal Lake Country Club, a regional fixture during the Roaring 20s.
“This building has been on the brink of destruction multiple times,” community engagement specialist Katie Bobrow said. “When Eliza Ringling bought it in 1922, the floors were flooded and iced over. Now we are the people on the timeline taking care of it.”
Period furniture was added via donations and arranged in the style of a 1920s music venue. A new bar also was added, and the room painted a dark blue, Bobrow said.
Once open, the space will be able to hold between 30 and 120 guests, depending on how the furniture is arranged, McElroy said.
“We are in the garden level of a 1926 building, so we channeled a vintage, vignette lounge feel,” McElroy said. “We want people to feel like they’ve been transported to one of the great little historic music venues in Chicago, but in McHenry County.”
At the new bar, Lou’s will serve classic cocktails and drinks, including several created by Bobrow, who was hired along with Brittany Niequist at the end of last year, in part, to help re-imagine the Listening Room space and to restart public events after the pandemic.
Bobrow’s creations include the “Snake Charmer,” a riff on an old fashioned with a name that pays homage to Ringling’s role in the Ringling Brothers circus, and the “Lou 22,″ a French 75 with gin, lemon, berry syrup made in house and prosecco.
“We’re going for something luxurious, rich, swanky,” Bobrow said.
The new period design of the space is evocative of an era when people were finding new modes of expression in part as an escape from sociopolitical struggles, such as World War I, the Great Depression — or today, the pandemic, Niequist said.
“They had so much fun,” Niequiest said of the 1920s and those who would have been at the new country club. “There was a little bit of newfound freedom, especially for women, in that era. It was a party, a good time. People would have come out from Chicago on horse and buggy or little tiny Ford models to be here in Crystal Lake, in this building. That’s dedication.”
The basement space was donated in 2012 to the Legacy Foundation from the Beach Cite Studios, which was using the room for McHenry Youth Orchestra rehearsals. Before that, the basement was used as part of the Friendship House preschool, according to the Dole’s website.
In Ringling’s time, it was part of the field house locker room, Bobrow said.
Several of the staff with the Lakeside Legacy Foundation said they found the story of Ringling — she married the eldest Ringling brother, Arthur — and her life as both a performer and entrepreneur inspirational.
“Lou was such a bold person,” Bobrow said. “She had pizzazz.”
Sharing Ringling’s story was important to the Dole, McElroy said.
“We want people to realize 100 years later we are standing on the shoulders of this female giant,” McElroy said.