Alumni share their memories of attending the punk rock concerts at the Fireside Bowl
By Craig Keller
Mosh pits, crowdsurfing and the torrential tempos of punk rock bands no longer lay siege to Chicago’s famed Fireside Bowl, now a freshly scrubbed, family-friendly bowling alley. But from 1994 to 2004, the venerable venue located two miles west of DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus at 2648 W. Fullerton Parkway slam-danced its way into punk rock history as an underground, all-ages punk, ska and emo scene rivaling New York City’s CBGB. We asked four DePaul alumni who were there to share their memories with us.
Cesar Peña (SCPS ’11)
Financial consultant, Fidelity Investments, Schaumburg, Ill.
“I drummed in a few punk bands in the early to mid-’90s. One of them, Bug Hunt, played at the Fireside Bowl a couple of times.
“We made a lot of friends with bands that eventually dominated the Fireside, like the Bollweevils, Los Crudos, Oblivion, No Empathy, Apocalypse Hoboken, Smoking Popes. There were early formations of bands that later ended up making it big, like Alkaline Trio. The Chicago punk community was really strong, and we all got along. There was no competition with one another.
“The venue was pretty dingy, but It became an iconic punk scene. If you didn’t play at the Fireside or you’d never been there, then you weren’t punk enough, right?
“Going to all-ages shows on any given night was a cool thing for teenagers. I was into the punk scene anyway. I really enjoyed that kind of music, and I still do today.”
Jennifer Madden (EDU ’05)
Assistant principal, North River Elementary School, Chicago
“I was dating a guy at the time who was in a band that played at the Fireside Bowl. My girlfriend and I just went for fun at first, but then we started liking the music played there. On nights when we didn’t have anything to do we would take the 74 Fullerton bus from DePaul to see live shows, because we both lived on campus.
“I didn’t realize it was all-ages, but that’s a good thing because I was only 17 or 18. That’s what made it cool to go there. It was just kids enjoying the music and themselves.
“It had underground feeling, but I don’t remember it being an ‘Ew’ situation. The bowling lanes just added to that ambience. It was like, ‘Oh, cool. We’re totally having a rock show at a bowling alley.’”
Scott Krischke (LAS ’05)
Federal public defender, Eastern District of Missouri, St. Louis
“I started going to the Fireside Bowl when I was 15. My cousin, Brad Krischke (CDM ’01, MS ’05), lived at DePaul, and I’d go to punk rock and ska shows with him. The separate education I got at those shows provided good lessons as I approached adulthood. It instilled compassion for other people’s perspectives and struggles, which is an absolute requirement for a public defender.
“They had shows every night, and it was usually just a $5 cover. You could see a lesser-known band, and there’d be 40 people there, or a group like Oblivion or Apocalypse Hoboken, which would pack the place. It would get super hot and heavy with cigarette smoke. Sometimes someone would crowdsurf and punch the ceiling tiles, dust would rain down and get in your eyes and mouth, and you’d wonder what chemicals you were inhaling. But it didn’t matter. You were in the middle of a cool punk-ska show and dancing on top of each other. It was as classic as punk can get.
“If you fell down, everybody around you would pick you back up. If you were cool enough to be at that show on that Thursday night, everybody was cool with you. There’s the cheekiness of being punk rock, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of mutual respect for one another.”
Craig Zomchek (BUS ’02, MBA ’05)
Managing partner, Colley Elevator Company, Bensenville, Ill.
“I started a record label, Sinister, during my last year of high school in 1996. All the bands on my label were local punk rockers and played at the Fireside Bowl. We did 20 or 30 releases. People in the scene started referring to me as Craig Sinister. It was a part-time hobby that didn’t provide a living, but it was fun. I met a lot of interesting people, and learned about record production, advertising and market penetration.
“The kids that went to the Fireside, we weren’t normal. We had colored hair, piercings, different ideas, we wore funny T-shirts. It was where we could get together and talk to like-minded people.
“For sure it was a dump. The bathrooms were scary, and the whole place was falling apart. But it was perfect for us. If you broke something, it didn’t matter. There were people jamming their guitars up in the ceiling and no capacity limits. Some shows would attract 700 or 800 people, and they’d hang out on the bowling alleys. That lasted only a few years because it was just destroying the lanes.
“I run a business now, and those experiences—the punk rock scene and DePaul—taught me the importance of taking care of each other, which I extend to the people who work for me. DePaul is all about diversity, and so is punk rock. We should be open-minded, whether you’re gay or straight, Black or white, or whatever in between. The punk rock culture encourages discussion and learning from each other, not the polarization we see today. In class I’d learn how the CIA was propping up dictatorships in Central America so our corporations could own the farms and plantations, then listen to bands raging about sociopolitical issues at the Fireside.”Are you a graduate of DePaul who went to shows at the Fireside Bowl? Leave a reply below and share your favorite memory with us!