The Spookiest, Most Metal Neighborhood in Chicago – Chicago Magazine

Nikki Guerrero had to have the serial killer t-shirt. Guerrero was browsing through a collection of gruesome shirts at The Horror House, a macabre gift shop at 2911 W. Belmont Ave., and chose the gruesomest: photos of John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer — three misguided Midwestern boys with a fondness for rope tricks, knockout drugs, and living among human remains.

“I’m interested in serial killers,” Guerrero gushed. “I love knowing that people are capable of these awful acts. How can people do these awful acts? And, I like getting looked at.”

“That’s the big three of serial killers,” said co-owner Moses Gibson, whose brother, Vinchenzo Malave, designed the shirt.

“Except for Ted Bundy,” another customer commented.

“We are missing Bundy,” Gibson admitted. “Can’t get everybody.”

“Do you want a bag?” Gibson asked Guerrero.

“I think I actually want to change into this,” she said.

Guerrero was so eager to wear her attention-getting shirt that she rushed to the bathroom — a bathroom decorated with posters for the movies Suspira and House of 1000 Corpses, and paintings of Vincent Price and a blood-covered clown giving the finger.

Nikki Guerrero in her new serial killers shirt. Edward McClelland

After Guerrero left — with Gacy, Gein, and Dahmer on her chest — Travis Smith finished his pre-Halloween shopping, buying decorations based on the movies Halloween and Season of the Witch.

“Congratulations,” he told Gibson, then gave him the highest compliment a horror shop owner can hope to hear. “This place is fuckin’ sick.”

That’s a good description of Avondale this Halloween season — and all year round. The Northwest Side neighborhood, long overshadowed by next door Logan Square, is building an image as Chicago’s center for horror-themed, heavy metal-themed, and otherwise morbid-themed businesses.

The Horror House opened in June, just three months after The Brewed, a horror movie coffee shop at 2843 N. Milwaukee Ave. The Horror House is dark and disturbing, but The Brewed is bright and kitschy, a space where the grown-up owners celebrate the monster movies they loved as children.

“We’re all kind of horror and monster movie fans,” said co-owner Jason Deuchler, over a cup of the shop’s signature brew, Firestarter, which is flavored with tangerine, because Tangerine Dream did the score to that Stephen King adaptation. “Jen LeMasters and I worked at the Creepy Company, a horror merchandiser. We always stopped for coffee on the way to  work, and Jen said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to open a horror-themed coffee shop?’ I said, ‘If you do it, I’m in.’ I’m gonna blame my dad for this. He showed me monster and B movies: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla. When I was seven, Svengoolie showed Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D. I remember saving my money and going to 7-11 to buy 3-D glasses.”

Display cases are filled with the owners’ childhood toy collections, including a precious Gizmo from Gremlins stuffie that Deuchler acquired when he was five. This month, the cereal bar is serving Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo-Berry, the monster cereals Mom never let you eat. A wall by the bathroom is painted with the screaming face of Tony Todd from Candyman. The Brewed is the bedroom every Millennial horror fan dreamed of sleeping in.

Deuchler with his Gizmo from Gremlins stuffie. Edward McClelland

“I do like the experience of being scared,” Deuchler said. “It’s a non-addictive high. Once you get a good scare, you’re chasing the next scare.”

The shop’s name is a play on the movie The Brood, by David Cronenberg. The wi-fi password is CRON3NB3RG. The store opened March 15, which happens to be Cronenberg’s birthday. When a New York Times reporter informed Cronenberg of the store’s opening, the director replied, “That’s great.”

“He has an open invite,” said Deuchler, who posted Cronenberg’s endorsement on the shop’s website. “Coffee’s on us.”

Kuma’s Corner, where the walls are painted black and the speakers always blast heavy metal. Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

The Horror House and The Brewed are only building on earlier businesses’ interest in the black arts. The Horror House is right across the street from Kuma’s Corner, 2900 W. Belmont Ave., the hamburger joint Gibson calls “the O.G.” Kuma’s serves the flesh of slaughtered cattle, its walls are painted black, its speakers always blast heavy metal, and “we’ve played Hellraiser so many times that if it was a VHS, it would be broken,” said Madi Quinn, a bartender with long black fingernails who plans to work as The Bride of Frankenstein on Halloween night.

Across from Kuma’s is DMen Tap, 2849 W. Belmont Ave., a Dungeons and Dragons-themed bar with a monthly “dark comedy show” called The Graveyard Shift. Around the corner from DMen is Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records, 3182 N. Elston Ave., which moved to Avondale from Logan Square seven years ago. Bucket O’ Blood has “the largest horror section of any store in the city,” said owner Grant McKee, divided into the sub-genres of Extreme Horror, Lovecraftiana, The Satanic Temple, Magick, Witchy, LGBTQ+, and Stephen King, a horror genre unto himself.

Bucket O’ Blood’s horror sub-genres include Extreme Horror, Lovecraftiana, The Satanic Temple, Magick, Witchy, LGBTQ+, and Stephen King Edward McClelland

“I call it Odd in Avondale,” The Brewed’s Deuchler said. “It’s just kind of an Eastern European, Latinx neighborhood, and now it’s the horror neighborhood.”

Kuma’s Quinn theorizes that Avondale got that way because “you think about how broke a lot of artists are, the rent is cheap. Younger generations are a bit more morbid. From the Polish delis to the spooky coffee shops, you’ve got everything you need here.”

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