New speakeasy in Crystal Lake to celebrate the country club, life of Eliza ‘Lou’ Ringling

For nearly a decade, the Listening Room at the Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake served as a venue for music and entertainment.

But in recent months, the mansion’s basement space has been redesigned as a speakeasy-style music lounge, which will be renamed Lou’s later this year, said Erin McElroy, relationship manager for the Dole.

The show’s soft opening has included private events and pop-up music performances since earlier this year, starting 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, singer and pianist of local band BB and the Hive, rehearsed in the new space.

“There’s a special energy to this piece,” she said. “I just like the vibe here. It feels like you have an audience even when this room is empty. The sound fills the room without too much amplification.”

The venue’s fall schedule is expected to be released shortly after Lakeside Festival next week, McElroy said.

Blues guitarist Jimmy Nick is set to perform at a pop-up event in late July ahead of his Music Under the Trees performance on August 18.

Proceeds from events, as they did before the pandemic, will fund the preservation of the Dole, Niequist said.

The refurbishment of the Listening Room is intended to commemorate both the 20th anniversary of the Lakeside Legacy Foundation – which runs the Dole – and the 100th 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 Twenties.


“This building has been on the brink of destruction many times,” said Katie Bobrow, community engagement specialist. “When Eliza Ringling bought it in 1922, the grounds were flooded and frozen. Now we take care of it.”

Period furniture was added through donations and arranged in the style of a 1920s concert hall. A new bar was also added and the room painted dark blue, Bobrow said.

When open, the space will accommodate between 30 and 120 guests, depending on the furniture arrangement, McElroy said.

“We’re on the garden level of a 1926 building, so we’ve created a vintage, vignette living room feel,” McElroy said. “We want people to feel like they’ve been transported to one of Chicago’s great little historic concert halls, but in McHenry County.”

At the new bar, Lou’s will serve classic cocktails and drinks, including several created by Bobrow, who was hired with Brittany Niequist late last year, in part to help reinvent the Listening Room space and reboot the public events. after the pandemic.

Bobrow’s creations include the “Snake Charmer”, a riff on an old game 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, syrup of homemade berries and prosecco.

“We’re going for something luxurious, rich, classy,” Bobrow said.

The new era design of the space evokes a time when people found new ways of expression in part to escape socio-political struggles, such as World War I, the Great Depression – or today, the pandemic, said Niequist.

“They had so much fun,” Niequiest said of the 1920s and who would have been at the new country club. “There was a bit of newfound freedom, especially for women, in those days. It was a party, a good time. People would have come from Chicago on horseback and buggies or little Fords to be here at Crystal Lake, in this building. It’s dedication.”

The basement space was donated in 2012 to the Beach Cite Studios Legacy Foundation, which used the room for McHenry Youth Orchestra rehearsals. Prior to that, the basement was used as part of the Friendship House preschool, according to Dole’s website.

In Ringling’s day, it was part of the on-field locker room, Bobrow said.

Several Lakeside Legacy Foundation staff said they found Ringling’s story — she married Ringling’s older brother Arthur — and her life as both a performer and an entrepreneur inspiring.

“Lou was such a bold person,” Bobrow said. “She had spice.”

Sharing Ringling’s story was important to the Dole, McElroy said.

“We want people to realize 100 years later that we stand on the shoulders of this female giant,” McElroy said.

About Roy B. Westling

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