Chicago Music Fans Say Good-bye to Radley the Cat | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Chicago Music Fans Say Good-bye to Radley the Cat

For our story of the month, we remember the death of a Chicago figure who made his mark on one particular stage.

music: Red, Red Meat,“Gauze”

FINKLEMAN: It got to a point where, bands around the country would come in and the first thing they would say is, it smells like home.

That's Bruce Finkleman, owner of The Empty Bottle, a bar and music venue in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. The smell? That was courtesy of the rock club's resident slinky black feline, Radley.

FINKLEMAN: As Radley was getting older, he was starting to get a little bit more territorial and a little bit crazier. He started marking his territory. And instead of marking his territory in any normal place, he decided that his space that he was going to mark was going to be where the drummer would usually set up on the stage.

That didn't seem to phase too many of the club's performers, or patrons. Finkleman guesses Radley was about 19 years old when he died last week, after making his home at the Empty Bottle for 16 years, nearly as long as ‘the bar itself' has existed.

Somebody dropped him off in the early days, when the Bottle was simply the neighborhood tavern. And while other cats, also named after characters in To Kill a Mockingbird came and went over the years, Radley hung around.

FINKLEMAN: the door was always open for him. He would roam around outside, he would sometimes leave for a couple days and come back. You know, he was free to go. And sometimes you would see a band start and you would see this black blur fly across the room as he was trying to exit the bar as quick as possible. And sometimes he would just sit on top of the bar and just be like really enjoying the bands. I remember watching a Red Red Meat show once a long long time ago and Radley was just sitting there, going, 'Okay, I like this.'

Some bands, he liked so much,  he'd try to stowaway and join them on tour. Here's Empty Bottle staffer Ryan Rafferty.

RAFFERTY: You could tell when he was into a band. There would be some nights that before even the second band was done playing, before the headliners would get up on stage. He would get up and crawl into a guitar case or a bass drum and, you know, make his home up there.

And though they never played live at the ‘Bottle, Rafferty says it was clear that a ‘ertain band was Radley's favorite. 

RAFFERTY: Every time Heart would come on, especially Magic Man, he had a little extra pep in his step.

Okay, so maybe that's a stretch, but Finkleman says there's no doubt that Radley could ‘pep up' the steps of patrons at the Empty Bottle.

FINKLEMAN: Truly, somebody coming in here and having a beer, you know, may be having a bad day and all of a sudden Radley walks up to them and hangs out with them for a half hour, really seems to make a difference. And to see people sitting on the couch and to see Radley just sitting on their lap, crawl up, it really would make people's day.

Radley, the Empty Bottle cat, died last Tuesday afternoon at the age of 19 or so. He's leaving a void at the club,  though Finkleman says interested parties should hold off on trying to fill it…

FINKLEMAN: We've had a number of people who have offered the services of their cat, and it's not off the table but right now we're just gonna go through the grieving process.

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