Aardvark Cinematheque

1608 N. Wells Street,
Chicago, IL 60614

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Additional Info

Previous Names: Aardvark-Termite Twin

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Aardvark theater

This art movie house theatre opened originally around 1966 at the Second City building, 1846 N. Wells Street, but moved to a new location in July 1967 at Piper’s Alley 1608 N. Wells Street in the Old Town neighborhood.

It showed avant-garde and experimental films. The seating capacity was for 240, which was larger than their original space which seated 160. It operated into the 1970’s

The Aardvark was part of a mini-chain of movie houses which also included the 3 Penny Cinema in Lincoln Park, the Bijou (a gay porn house) also on N. Wells Street, the Festival Cinema (formerly the Mode) on N. Sheridan Avenue, and the Rialto Theatre, a former burlesque house on S. State Street.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 26 comments)

Broan on March 18, 2011 at 11:07 am

The Termite was launched as an art house on March 29, 1972 but lasted only 7 weeks. It was such a financial failure that it did not even cover the cost of the projectionist. It then went to porn.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on May 31, 2011 at 1:02 am

The P. Lekousis photo was actually taken in 1973.

DavidDynamic on September 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Well, it looks as if the mega money has moved in and gentrified Old Town Wells St. I remember in ‘67 and '68 it seemed to be full of small independent business of various types. Was a great place to visit even though there was supposed to be an element of danger there. I can’t remember so much street traffic—it was the sidewalks that were packed with pedestrians. It was like a carnival with the smell of food, incense, etc. and the sounds of the various music stores,clubs, and Irish pubs. I thought Piper’s Alley was super cool with its brick street winding through. But, about the Aardvark, I am very surprised that the name stayed with me for so long. Some friends convinced me that I should go there to see the Andy Warhol movie called “Bike Boy.” The place was unimpressive to say the least—seemed to be a 16mm setup. Needless to say I don’t remember a single thing about the film, sorry Andy.

DavidZornig on February 12, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I just added a Free Pass image to the photos section. It applied to both the Aardvark and the Festival up North on Sheridan. Image courtesy of Bill West.

DavidZornig on March 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

FYI. Just added a neat, rare handbill from 1968 to the Photos Section. Originally posted to the Chicago Old Town in the 1960’s Facebook page.

DavidZornig on May 2, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Photo added of Chicago “Electric” Odyssey. Aardvark/Termite sign behind the Second Hand Rose sign.

luganrn on November 16, 2016 at 2:47 pm

I believe they showed X rated films as early as 1970 since I was taken there on a first (and last) date during that year at the tender age of 16.

okcray on July 9, 2017 at 4:36 am

Used to see newspaper ads for the Aardvark, Termite and all the other porno houses all the time in the mid 70s. Going through the movie ads in the Chicago Tribune online archives, I noticed the Aardvark occasionally showed movies under the “Barnyard Buddies” moniker; apparently these were bestiality flicks. An ad for “Linda Lovelace and Barnyard Buddy” (the film she says she never made) pretty much confirms my suspicions.

lazydave on October 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Back in the mid to late 1960s the Aardvark was the place to go to see off-beat movies like those by Andy Warhol. It was, to put it mildly, not a fancy place. The floor wasn’t raked at all, and each of the several rows of seating was made up of a creaky mass of ancient seats all joined together. (I think maybe they were just wooden with no upholstery; anyway, they certainly were not comfortable.) Once they showed the famous Marlene Dietrich film “The Blue Angel,” but the print was in terrible condition.

lazydave on October 24, 2017 at 5:10 pm

I should have mentioned that I was referring to the Piper’s Alley location. I think the Ardvark was on the second floor. The Alley was full of shops selling hippy stuff like candles. One shop had an upstairs room that was pitch-dark except that the walls were covered with counterculture posters bathed in ultraviolet light. It was popular among folks stoned on pot or LSD.

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