A native to Illinois, Lee White grew up in the South and attended East Tennessee State University, then moved back to Chicago six years ago, eventually landing in Roscoe Village in 2009. A lifelong bartender, Lee currently manages the bar at The Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave., a non-profit performance space tucked on the western edge of Rosoe Village, “with the purpose of promoting, producing, and creating theater, film, art, dance, and music in Chicago.”
A fun and funky space found under the Western Avenue overpass, the Viaduct attracts an eclectic range of performers and artists, all of them grateful for Lee’s well-stocked bar as well as his laid-back manner and friendly, can-do attitude. Over the last two years, Lee has come to appreciate the area’s amenities and residents, and shares some of his experiences and insights with Roscoe View Journal. [Ed note: We interviewed The Viaduct's co-founder, Whitney Blakemore last November.]
1. Where are you from originally? When and why did you settle in Roscoe Village?
I’m originally from here I guess. My family moved around a lot though. I spent most of my early life in North Carolina. First the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area, and Asheville later. Then moved to Tennessee for school and made my way back to Chicago in 2005. I moved to Roscoe Village about 2 years ago for convenience, but the area has grown on me.
2. Tell the us about the The Viaduct Theatre. How long has it been open and what types of performances happen there?
I’d tell you not to quote me on this but I’m pretty sure that’s the point of an interview. I believe The Viaduct opened about 15 years ago, give or take a year. It began as studio space as the owners, Robert Whitaker and Whitney Blakemore, slowly built it into what it is today. First and foremost we’re a non-for-profit live theater venue supporting local companies that might not have a home of their own, but branch out considerably from there. We do a bit of everything–theater, film, music, comedy, dance, mud wrestling–I’m pretty sure there were even a few weddings before my time.
3. How did you nab the job of Bar Manager at The Viaduct? How long have you been working there? Do you have a service and hospitality background?
In Tennessee you can be a bartender at 18, so bartended my way through college and I guess my way through life since then. I’ve been at The Viaduct slightly over three years. I was told about the opening through a family member who is friends with the owners and interviewed for the job in ’07. I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and assumed it didn’t go too well. A year later in September of ’08 my phone rang and guess what! I got the job. Better late than never I suppose.
4. Even bar managers at hip venues have to relax sometime. What are your favorite places in the neighborhood to have a meal or a enjoy a drink?
I’m really fond of the Hungry Brain [2319 W. Belmont Ave.]. Cheap drinks and Ms. Pac-Man. What else does one truly need?
5. What is the wackiest thing you have witnessed at The Viaduct? Do tell!
There’s way too many to chose only one and I’ll refrain from telling stories of our patrons and their drunken ridiculousness as tempting as it may be. We hosted a cat circus once. You can probably figure out for yourself how that went. Yes, it was awesome. There’s also a little boy in the neighborhood, 3 years old maybe, who rides a Big Wheel around the block nonstop in all types of weather with his grandfather shuffling closely behind. I don’t if that qualifies as wacky but it’s pretty darn cute.