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Elaine Doremus | Photo: Paul Elledge | September 28, 2012
Billy Corgan smashes barriers with Madame Zuzu’s, his new tea shop in Ravinia.
The Smashing Pumpkins may be known for their heavy metal-ish brand of alternative rock, but these days frontman Billy Corgan is taking a gentler, quieter approach to his life in Highland Park. So, instead of talking about his recently released Oceania album and imminent tour, the rocker who describes himself as “old-fashioned” wants to talk about his newly opened Madame Zuzu’s Tea House (582 Roger Williams Road, Highland Park) in Ravinia, which he hopes will infuse some energy into the area’s arts and culture scene.
Think Gertrude Stein’s French salon meets Chinese teahouse circa 1930s. “I had the idea a decade ago to have a performing arts space but I never found the right place,” says Corgan, who admits to being a bit of an altruist at heart. He liked the idea of creating a social hub that would “bring community together, but not just my community,” from teenagers to retirees and everyone in between, where they could come to appreciate the arts. By arts, he means more than music. Corgan envisions art exhibits, history presentations (“I love history,” he says) open mic nights and amateurs picking out a tune on the 1930s Bösendorfer piano he once bought “in a moment of rock star excess in Finland.”
Like the selection of tea from around the world that will continually rotate—green teas from Madagascar, Morocco and India—Corgan’s goal is for Zuzu’s to evolve continually to meet the personalities and tastes of its patrons at any given time. You might hear music from the ’30s mid-afternoon, then the vibe changes later in the day as a hip, younger crowd comes in, and then again in the evening depending on what’s on tap that night. There’s no stage at Zuzu’s, and that is intentional. Corgan really just wants this to be a neighborhood joint where things happen impromptu with little pomp and circumstance.
As to life on the North Shore, Corgan says he has intentionally taken on a more public role recently after moving to his Highland Park David Adler-designed dream home in 2003 and keeping a low profile for a few years.
So what’s next for the 40-something entrepreneur with the piercing blue eyes? Corgan envisions playing a role in expanding HP’s arts scene, maybe opening a great healthy deli or coordinating a winter carnival in quaint Ravinia, taking his wrestling business, Resistance Pro, national and continuing his support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It’s clear that Corgan enjoys tasting the endless varieties of tea that life offers. Stay tuned.
Happi Sushi in Ravinia, the Mean Weiner and Casa De Isaac in Highwood and In The Raw in Highland Park
Poseurs, weekend rebels, demagogues, those that can’t and won’t read Nietzsche