Like cans in a vending machine, art fans from across the city will jam into a small Northeast home tonight for July's Alphabet Dress event. The evening should be convivial if not downright crowded, considering the last event attracted over 200 people.

During the Donut Shop's absence, AD has become the fringe happening. The 4-month-old rotating art gallery springs up one night each month in a house and features local bands as well as the work of artists. "It never seems crowded because there's a constant flow of people," says Jessica Sullivan, who organizes the gallery along with boyfriend Zeffrey Throwell. "Really, people come for the bands and stay for the artwork." This month, Trish Ganthram's paintings of bunnies and children (think Japanimation) will be available for viewing at 7 pm. Then the Braille Stars and Dickel Brothers take the stage, beginning at 9 pm.

Forget about being a not-for-profit; Alphabet Dress is a barely-covering-the-costs type of operation. Someone lends the home, takes down all wall decor and leaves the furniture (Sullivan insists on a homey feeling). Artists hang their own work, pick the bands, set their prices and keep all sales earnings. Guests throw in donations for the beer and wine. Advertising is by word of mouth, fliers and band listings in local newspapers. There is no cover charge.

"The galleries get dry. It's a lot more fun to have parties," says Throwell, who created the event's name by randomly choosing words from the dictionary. "With just one night, people get a kind of fever. From the first, people have wanted to donate their houses and bring their portfolios when they come."

Throwell and Sullivan decided they wanted to add a little flavor to the gallery scene during a late-night conversation. Throwell is a painter with many visual-artist friends. Adding the beer and music seemed a natural decision to Sullivan, who is a bartender at Fellini and can be spotted at Meow Meow at least once a week.

The two organizers have a certain knack with the art they select: People buy it. According to Sullivan, each and every piece from the first show sold, and almost all of the works in the June AD found a home. Neither the Blue Catfish Studios openings, which attract a comparably sized crowd, nor the Creative Exposition series, which uses a similar format, can make the same claim.

Alphabet Dress may have the advantage on sales because it attracts all sorts, more than the young and hip (and poor). Sure, it's a good place to catch a rising art star, but there's no A-list to the event. Neighbors have even shown up at past parties instead of calling the cops.

The evening's appeal to
all generations has stunned Sullivan. "At the first one, an older guy came with his own wine glass and a bottle tucked under his arm," she says. "I thought, 'Who is this guy? I don't know him.' Then I remembered that this was open to the public and he was here to buy art."

Alphabet Dress

536 NE Cook St., 2 blocks south of Fremont. 7 pm Wednesday, July 18.