Empty Bottle ‘Peeing it Forward’ for American Liver Foundation

By Sophia Coleman

Drinking off of the bathroom floor of a bar has never sounded so pleasing

or commendable.

The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., a dive bar known for hosting some of the best alternative rock and jazz in the city, but more importantly, for its eclectic walls full of musicians’ and artists’ blood, sweat and signatures—recently remodeled. Now the place is donating some of their bits and pieces to the American Liver Foundation.

The bar couldn’t seem to part with its beloved men’s bathroom stalls and floor, which Bruce Finkelman, owner of the Empty Bottle, said “collected too many memories [during] the past 20 years [since the bar’s founding]” to simply throw away.

Instead, Finkelman came up with the idea to turn the discarded stalls, walls and sections of flooring into coaster-sized pieces of art, which will be auctioned off over the next few weeks; proceeds will go to ALF.

“[ALF] has always been near and dear to my heart,” Finkelman said. “What better way for a drinking establishment to pay it forward—or in this case pee it forward—for those of us who may be in need of it down the road?”

Pete Falknor, production manager of the Empty Bottle, helped Finkelman with his idea and agreed that saving parts of the men’s bathroom was not only brilliant, but also an innovative way to save part of history.

“All these great musicians and interesting people have come through and left their mark,” Falknor said. “Why not turn it into something cool and, [furthermore], do it as a charitable event, as opposed to us trying to make a profit off of it?”

Overall, the men’s bathroom was salvaged into 20 different coaster sets, with four pieces in each, all of which are numbered, signed and, as Finkelman said, “ready for your next party.”

The auction event, properly titled “Pee It Forward: Protect Your Liver, Protect Your Table,” kicked off on Sept. 22 at the Empty Bottle, where patrons had the chance to place their bids on the works of art.

The bidding continues until Oct. 22, and according to Finkelman, the bids continue to rise every day—most are already at the $100 mark.

“All 20 sets were instantly bid on and the bids have been increasing,” Finkelman said. “Some ‘buy-nows’ [which are sold for a fixed price] are already gone.”

Some of the “buy-now” sets, which contained some of the most famous and collectable signatures—think Jack White or Isaac Brock—sold for more than $1,000. The coasters that have already been sold ranged anywhere from $500 to $5,000.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Jodie Lawton, vice president of ALF. “It’s a piece of music history and of Empty Bottle’s history. They’ve been very philanthropic over the years.”

Lawton said Finkelman has been involved with ALF a long time, as he has a personal connection with the foundation. The goal of the auction and ALF’s involvement is to teach the public about liver disease and how to prevent it.

However, Lawton mentioned that the consumption of alcohol is not the primary cause of liver disease, and in fact, is one of the lesser ways that people damage their livers.

“People can get it because of [hereditary] issues, their diet or even from hepatitis,” Lawton said. “Alcohol is still a contributor, but I think people should be aware of the fact that there are hundreds of different liver diseases, and the only way to prevent them is to live in moderation.”

Lawton also said the abuse of medications, both prescription and over the counter, could cause severe damage to the liver. If the label is not carefully followed, over time, it can lead to cirrhosis—the hardening of the liver.

“College students should take note of this,” Lawton said. “Especially if they are taking medications to nurse hangovers or headaches from staying up late.”

Pamphlets about liver disease and wellness tips, provided by ALF, were left in stacks at the Empty Bottle so patrons could have a bit of educational reading material while drinking the night away.

Hangovers aside, the renovated Empty Bottle looks akin to a “yoga studio,” according to Finkelman.

The bar still has some of its gritty charm—with the exception of the men’s bathroom—in the ladies’ room and in the main parts of the bar.

“It’s nice to look at the floors and see that they’re nice and shiny, and then look up at the walls and still see all of the stickers, carvings and graffiti that have added up [during the last] 20 years,” Falknor said.

As for the carvings, drawings and names scrawled all over the ladies’ bathroom, Falknor insists it’s next on the list.

“I’ve done my fair share of cleaning in the women’s bathroom, and like Bruce would tell you, I will stand to say that women are much dirtier than men,” Falknor said. “[But] we will figure out something cool [for it] when the time comes.”