Ron Hardy was instrumental in shaping Chicago house music through his innovative DJ sets at the Muzic Box in the early ’80s. Unfortunately, since he passed away in 1992 at the age of 33, Hardy’s early career has remained something of a mystery. What we do know is that Hardy was offered his first residency at Den One, a club which has a storied past. The space housed a dance club for 17 years, weathering changes in ownership and musical styles, before closing in the wake of news that a notorious serial killer had picked up one of his victims there. It has subsequently stood abandoned for over two decades.
The club opened in July 1974 as Our Den in a space that was formerly a Paul Bunyan-themed family restaurant, complete with statues of the giant lumberjack and his blue ox, Babe. The neighborhood, Old Town, was in transition. In the late ’60s and early ’70s it was known as a hippie hangout, one of several areas where clashes broke out between police and protestors during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It was also home to a gay community and was something of a red light district. (Located next door to Our Den was the Bijou Theater, which showed hardcore gay pornography and offered private rooms; it remains in business today.) Area entertainment ranged from a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum to the Second City comedy theater and head shops filled with black light posters.