The Ace Hardware web site gives you the hours of operation at Bronzeville’s Meyers Ace Hardware Store, and a reminder that Ace is the helpful hardware place.
What’s not covered in the online write-up is that Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzie Gillespie each spent time in the building at 315 East 35th Street. And they weren’t looking for crescent wrenches.
You see, Meyers Ace Hardware is in the space that was once home to the Sunset Café. The “black and tan” nightclub was one of a handful of integrated clubs in Chicago. The Sunset opened at the Bronzeville location in the 1920’s, eventually becoming the Grand Terrace nightclub.
The location’s historical significance made Meyers Ace Hardware an odd but fascinating venue during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago. The building has no special ornamentation or architectural significance, although the old-fashioned sign out front is kind of cool.
What the location does have is jazz street cred. Louis Armstrong played the club, and for a time owned the joint. So did music lover Al Capone. The Sunset Café also hosted Earl Hines, Charlie Parker, Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman.
Today, Meyers Ace Hardware looks from any angle—inside and out—like a garden variety hardware store. When you enter, you’ll see a few framed vintage black and white photos from the golden age of jazz. But, venture to the back of the store and peek behind a false wall. That’s where you’ll see the remnants of the old Sunset Café stage. And a mural frozen in time.
I spoke with David Meyers, the store owner. As he was grinding duplicate keys, I asked him how long he’d been there. “Forever,” he answered with a sigh. (Actually, his family has owned the building for nearly 55 years.)
Meyers said he’d love to turn the store into a jazz museum, “but I don’t have the money. Mom and pop stores we grew up with aren’t what they used to be. If somebody came in and wanted to buy the place. . .” His voice trailed off, but I’d wager he’d really like to meet a deep-pocketed jazz aficionado who could turn back the hands of time and turn this humble hardware store into a shrine to jazz.