Lisa and Donna Pellegrino’s father Lenin “Doc” Pellegrino opened Kingston Mines in 1972. Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park it is a family run business and the oldest operating Blues club in Chicago.
Pellegrino was working as a physician on the West Side when he bought the former home of the Kingston Mines Theater Company. Pellegrino eventually moved the venue to Halsted Street. Kingston Mines showcases a variety of Blues by two separate bands every night on two separate stages.
Blues legends such as Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Carl Weathersby, Magic Slim, and Sugar Blue have played at Kingston Mines. Current Blues performers include: Linsey Alexander, John Primer, Mike Wheeler, Billy Branch, Joanna Connor, and Corey Dennison.
Kingston Mines is in danger of disappearing. It has spent the last two years fighting to recover from the loss of its founder. Now with the quarantine and mandatory shutdown, a permanent closure is looming. The bar is delivering its signature southern food and sealed alcoholic beverages. If you would like to donate follow their GoFundMe page.
If you are in Chicago and within a mile of the bar and would rather order food call 773-477-4646, or visit Kingston Mines website.
Can you talk about “The Save Kingston Mines” Go Fund Me” Page?
Lisa: We decided to do it because as you know like most restaurants and bars we have closed down. We are not known for our delivery but we are giving it a try. It’s not flying. To make enough money to pay all our bills and get through this period somebody suggested doing a Go Fund Me Page. We thought we would give it a try.
Donna: We have been busy working on our food delivery, cleaning, and taking care of some other things. There are only so many hours in the day but we are looking into doing Facebook live with artists here. It is something worth looking into.
What makes Kingston Mines unique?
Donna: We have two rooms, two stages, and two bands and the bands switch off playing sets. We are a late night club and we have continuous live music. One band will play for an hour and then the other band plays and there’s no down time between sets because bands don’t have to break down equipment because they stay on their respective stages.
Lisa: We do this every night of the year. We employ a lot of bands and we have talked about doing live shows from here however we have not done this before. If we were to do it we would do it so the money goes to the bands and not to the club. Bands are not able to work right now because the clubs are closed.
What does it take to run a Blues club?
Donna: There are so many things that have to be addressed when you manage a club. You have to manage your people, manage your resources, comply with the law, pay taxes, the bands have to be booked, bookings have to be advertised, and it has to be communicated on social media. Social media has to be updated on a daily basis. The food has to be purchased and you have to check the quality of it when you bring it in. There’s a lot of safety requirements involved with processing food and advertising the food. There are so many things.
What did you learn from your father?
Lisa: Our world, family, and environment was always all inclusive. We never knew anything different when growing up. When you get into school you see people are different. That’s the way we were raised. Kingston Mines is known all over the world. We have people from all walks of life. We have people come in with their families particularly on Sundays. People who visit Chicago want to hear Blues music and if they have kids with them, they will come in and order food. We have a Blues Jam every Sunday so we open earlier. We draw people from all over. Everyone’s welcome.
Donna: We were very fortunate we were raised that way because it’s a joy to meet people from different places because we are interested in everybody.
Who are your favorite Blues artists?
Lisa: That’s like asking which is the prettiest flower in the field.
Donna: Or your favorite child.
Do you have a favorite Kingston Mines show or one that really stood out?
Donna: We have seen so many bands play here over the years. I love the bands that play here. We have had all kinds of famous people come and sit in. To see so much talent together onstage every night is unique.
Lisa: Yea absolutely. There are some performances that stick out in my memory. There was a time when Valerie Wellington missed her cue to get up to the stage and she started singing from the back of the room. A hush fell over the room and you could have heard a pin drop. She took the entire song to make her way up to the stage.
Donna: I have never seen an audience so absolutely spell bound. You could have heard a pin drop.
Lisa: Junior Wells was up onstage one time. The other harp players would come in and sit with him. There are some performances that are absolutely unique.
Donna: Junior Wells, James Cotton, Billy Branch, and Sugar Blue. All of a sudden you have four harp players up onstage playing on a Saturday night and while this was going on Lisa and I were bartending. You don’t really realize it is history in the making and how fortunate you are to be there and be surrounded by all this talent and see everyone come together.
Anything else you want to add?
Lisa: As Donna said before like all the other business’s we are shut down. We are trying to make our way through this and hold our breath. We hope that we can reopen because we have no idea if we are going to be allowed to reopen or if the shutdown is going to get extended. Like any other business you have to be able to pay your bills.
Donna: We are trying to get through by paying the utilities and everything that needs to be paid for while we are closed and be able to open when they allow us to. Not only does our staff depend on us for jobs but the bands depend on us. We are open every day of the week with two bands. For a lot of bands this is their bread and butter. They may have the big festivals but their weekly gigs keep them going. That’s why it is so important to keep as many Blues clubs open in Chicago as possible because if there aren’t enough clubs to play at than they stop being a band. We want to be able to get through this and open up and have our bands playing and our staff working.
Lisa: Some places call it a virtual tip jar but our Go Fund Me page is more to the point. We are trying to stay in business like everybody else.