Aardvark Cinematheque

1608 N. Wells Street,
Chicago, IL 60614

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lazydave on October 24, 2017 at 5:10 pm

I should have mentioned that I was referring to the Piper’s Alley location. I think the Ardvark was on the second floor. The Alley was full of shops selling hippy stuff like candles. One shop had an upstairs room that was pitch-dark except that the walls were covered with counterculture posters bathed in ultraviolet light. It was popular among folks stoned on pot or LSD.

lazydave on October 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Back in the mid to late 1960s the Aardvark was the place to go to see off-beat movies like those by Andy Warhol. It was, to put it mildly, not a fancy place. The floor wasn’t raked at all, and each of the several rows of seating was made up of a creaky mass of ancient seats all joined together. (I think maybe they were just wooden with no upholstery; anyway, they certainly were not comfortable.) Once they showed the famous Marlene Dietrich film “The Blue Angel,” but the print was in terrible condition.

okcray on July 9, 2017 at 4:36 am

Used to see newspaper ads for the Aardvark, Termite and all the other porno houses all the time in the mid 70s. Going through the movie ads in the Chicago Tribune online archives, I noticed the Aardvark occasionally showed movies under the “Barnyard Buddies” moniker; apparently these were bestiality flicks. An ad for “Linda Lovelace and Barnyard Buddy” (the film she says she never made) pretty much confirms my suspicions.

luganrn on November 16, 2016 at 2:47 pm

I believe they showed X rated films as early as 1970 since I was taken there on a first (and last) date during that year at the tender age of 16.

DavidZornig on May 2, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Photo added of Chicago “Electric” Odyssey. Aardvark/Termite sign behind the Second Hand Rose sign.

DavidZornig on March 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

FYI. Just added a neat, rare handbill from 1968 to the Photos Section. Originally posted to the Chicago Old Town in the 1960’s Facebook page.

DavidZornig on February 12, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I just added a Free Pass image to the photos section. It applied to both the Aardvark and the Festival up North on Sheridan. Image courtesy of Bill West.

DavidDynamic on September 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Well, it looks as if the mega money has moved in and gentrified Old Town Wells St. I remember in ‘67 and '68 it seemed to be full of small independent business of various types. Was a great place to visit even though there was supposed to be an element of danger there. I can’t remember so much street traffic—it was the sidewalks that were packed with pedestrians. It was like a carnival with the smell of food, incense, etc. and the sounds of the various music stores,clubs, and Irish pubs. I thought Piper’s Alley was super cool with its brick street winding through. But, about the Aardvark, I am very surprised that the name stayed with me for so long. Some friends convinced me that I should go there to see the Andy Warhol movie called “Bike Boy.” The place was unimpressive to say the least—seemed to be a 16mm setup. Needless to say I don’t remember a single thing about the film, sorry Andy.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on May 31, 2011 at 1:02 am

The P. Lekousis photo was actually taken in 1973.

Broan on March 18, 2011 at 11:07 am

The Termite was launched as an art house on March 29, 1972 but lasted only 7 weeks. It was such a financial failure that it did not even cover the cost of the projectionist. It then went to porn.

KenC on July 27, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Some history of Old Town in 1969: from a Roger Ebert column in the Sun Times dated Friday, Oct. 10, 1969— “IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS, underground film buffs used to get together every Monday night at the old Second City and show their new works. The tradition is being revived at the new Los Angeles Coliseum Theater, 1653 N. Wells, with screenings at 7,9, and 11 p.m. Mondays. Included this week: John Hofsess' ambitious epic "Redpath 25”. The program is being organized by Jeff Begun, who also oversees the Aardvark. Jeff is celebrating this week because, on Wednesday, a judge ruled that Jack Smith’s film “Flaming Creatures” is not obscene. The Aardvark was busted for showing it, and the young girl who was selling tickets was thrown into jail overnight. Small consolation."

kencmcintyre on March 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I tried to take my ant to the Aardvark once, but she wouldn’t go inside.

actionplan52 on March 26, 2010 at 11:56 am

By the way, photo credit for the Aardvark Theater picture is:
Photo by: P. Lekousis 1972

actionplan52 on March 26, 2010 at 11:45 am

As I recall, the Aardvark was an art house theater, showing stuff like Warhol movies and especially, Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back by D. A. Pennebaker, which they showed nightly, for years. Then, in about 1972 they became an XXX rated movie theater. (So did the Towne Theater on Armitage). Anyway, some of the ladies that worked at the X rated Aardvark, left at some point in 1973 or ‘74, and operated one of the first sex movie and massage parlors in town, on Hubbard St., called Just Filmz.

actionplan52 on March 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

Here is a link to a photo of the Aardvark and Termite Theaters sign in Piper’s Alley, Old Town, Chicago, from 1972.


The photo shows the last half of the outdoor part of Piper’s Alley. The Smoke Shop would be to the left. Through the swinging doors ahead was the indoor part, which had several shops…
the Aardvark entrance to the right of the doors, a leather clothing store, jewelry store, a juice cart, a sweet shop, a glass blowing place, candle shop, restaurant, and a bookstore where I worked.

DavidZornig on March 13, 2010 at 12:11 pm

The Festival/Mode mentioned in the very top bio paragraph was located on Sheridan, and not Sheffield as written above.
Sheffield turns into Sheridan a block South of where the Festival/Mode stood. The Westbound stretch of Sheridan that intersects Sheffield starts at the inner drive of LSD to the East.
It is also why the “L” stop is called Sheridan. Also the name on the Sheridan 151 bus.

vicboda on October 2, 2009 at 12:13 pm

This just reminds me of when Piper’s Alley was actually an alley.

DavidZornig on April 14, 2009 at 10:59 pm

I was just reminded by a childhood friend, that we exited this theater quite quickly on one occasion.
Apparently with the head shops in such close proximity, their customers took the path of least resistance as to where to “light up” & test out their purchases.
The Aardvark was indeed that cheap, sparsely occupied, quite handy locale.
Since the films were often avant garde, it would go virtually unchecked.

DavidZornig on April 7, 2009 at 7:35 am

Reactivate notification status.

DavidZornig on November 28, 2008 at 11:52 am

My brother reminded me yesterday that next to the Aardvark Theatre inside of Piper’s Alley, was a place called Charley’s General Store. It might have been bi-level inside.
It started out as a kind of kitchy, country-like antique store of sorts, but ultimately became a bit of a head shop itself. Probably because the existing head shop in Piper’s Alley was seeing all the business.

The Earl of Old Town I mentioned earlier is where Corcoran’s is located now. After a brief run in the `90’s when it was known as The Last Act.
A name chosen likely to tie itself to the Second City across the street.
And maybe in honor of Belushi and all who frequented it after work.

As the Earl, it was famous for having such folk stars as Bonnie Kolac etc. during it’s heydey in the `60’s.

DavidZornig on August 21, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Thanks BWChicago for the encouraging words. I thought it might be helpful to add that one entrance to Pipers Alley which housed the Aardvark, is where the Starbucks is today at North & Wells. To the South of Second City.
The building in between was a restaurant called That Steak Joynt. Classier inside than it sounded.
I think it was owned by a guy named Joe Segal, who possibly also owned the original Jazz Showcase on Grand.
I think this is now a cafe featuring a Mexican cuisine. Orato or something?

Pipers Alley was kind of a cluster of buildings and gangways that with the indoor shops and Aardvark, had more than one entrance & exit. There were some storefronts and an old German shot & a beer type bar on the North Ave. side, that considered themselves part of Pipers Alley too. After it was all torn down, the first anchor, corner tenant in the new building was an Arby’s. That is where the Starbucks is today.

In late 1974 I started high school at St. Michaels up the street at North & Hudson. Now condos.
But it closed in my sophomore year. The public alternative was Cooley High on Division & Sedgwick by an Oscar Meyer plant. But it’s days were numbered too. I think they had finished the film there about the same time, and that was the end of it.

I read on Cinema Treasures that the interior theatre fight scene in Cooley High was filmed at The Adelphi in Rogers Park.

Next to Lum’s(Boston Market) in what is now a parking lot, was an old building identical to the one that is still standing just South of the lot.

In the `70’s it was briefly a House of Horrors with frightening creatures painted fluorescent colors bathed in blacklight, in all the different arched windows. It was last some type of Opera themed restaurant when it burned maybe 15-20 years ago. Across from that on the East side was the famous head shop Bizarre Bizzare.
A giant U shaped bonanza of pipes, papers, candles, posters, purses, etc. I’m pretty sure it’s the Honda store locale now. Or maybe breifly Harley or an ad agency. Guess BB did more damage by just walking in that I had thought.

The building previously mentioned in the Aardvark posts that housed the wax museum further South on the East side of Wells, is still there & has been long vacant. It has a wooden front and the faint, visile outline of it’s own old marquee. There was a giant log or utility pole laying inside the window last I looked.
It was called the Royal London Wax Museum when it was open. A friend of mine disputes the location, but it seem geographically correct to me. In relation to Gaslight Court. A once mini version of Pipers Alley, now appearing private.

Across from that was the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.

The Bijou Theatre & the Up Down Tobacco Shop are easily Wells Streets oldest businesses. With The Fireplace Inn maybe coming in third. With basement tavern Hobos now gone in place of something called “S”. How trendy. The Up Down though was originally across the street from it’s current home, and in a basement.

The Bijou was in the news about 15 years ago or so, when a would be bomber apparently, accidentally detonated himself in his own car before reaching that which was his alleged, intended target.
The papers somehow connected the Bijou either by default, or in a move to connect the bombing to it’s 40 year racy subject matter or something.

DavidZornig on August 19, 2008 at 9:26 pm

This place we had no business being in. We were borderline teenagers, and you had to cut through all the head shops & such to get to the entrance.
I think the only film we ever saw here was “The Twelve Chairs” with Ron Moody.
I particularly remember a glass blowing shop that made vases & stuff right inside the windows. Pipers Alley was basically set off of the street, and wound around in a kind of bricklined indoor setting. Across the street was The Earl Of Old Town, a bar that Belushi & Akroyd supposedly bought into, so they’d have a place to party. Maybe after last call at Jeff’s Laff Inn down the street, across from Martingales. There was also a Lum’s diner across from Pipers Alley. Now a Boston Market. Down from the Old Town Ale House. Which is still there, and exactly the same Minus the smoke.

We worked part time a few blocks away at a small stage theatre called the Old Town Players. Just North of North Ave, on North Park St. It itself had been built inside of an old church. If the building is still there, it’s likely condos & worth millions. There was an old horse then cab barn across from that.

Wells St. in the 60's &70’s was legendary. I’m glad we weren’t old enough to partake in all it had to offer.

TRAINPHOTOS on May 23, 2005 at 4:09 pm

The Aardvark was actually known as the Aardvark-Termite Twin. This was back when Wells Street was considered somewhere between “funky” and “tacky”. Unlike today in which it is now yuppified. A wax museum also was located on Wells Street. Piper’s Alley (no, not the Loews theatre) was considered kind of funky too.

RiisPark99 on March 13, 2005 at 8:46 pm

I remember seeing the art film YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT here around 1969 and recall the Aardvark became a prono movie house before it closed.

Broan on February 16, 2005 at 10:03 pm

I read in a book today that the Aardvark was originally held in Poor Richard’s, an old town establishment, and later operated out of the Second City space on off-nights