Speakeasies in Chicago

Chicago's golden era of speakeasies lives on in some of the city's historic bars that have been around since Prohibition

Photograph: Martha Williams
The Drifter

During the Prohibition era, Chicagoans refused to let the booze stop flowing. Illegal speakeasies popped up in every neighborhood to help quench a thirsty city. One could find speakeasy bars in any number of basements, back rooms and soda shops. Hundreds faded away when Congress repealed the amendment in 1933, but many applied for some of the city’s first new liquor licenses and remain Chicago bars to this day.

Some of the speakeasies were less discreet than others. Music and alcohol flowed openly at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Uptown, which had the support of Al Capone and was partly owned by gangster Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn. Bugs Moran ran Halligan’s, another hidden watering hole, and down the road, Marge’s Still made gin in an upstairs bathtub.

Up in Lakeview, Durkin’s used to be called Prohibition Willy’s Speakeasy. Its current owners found a secret storage room full of White Horse Scotch and Portuguese brandy in 1974. Nearby Jake’s had a candy store as its front, and a few blocks away, Southport Lanes ran a bar, bowling alley and brothel upstairs (the murals of dancing nymphs were the tipoff).

Neighbors the Hangge Uppe and Butch McGuire’s (then called Kelly’s Pleasure Palace) were both speakeasies in the ’20s, as was the Green Door Tavern on Huron, named for the unmarked green door side entrance. Down in the Chicago Loop, the Exchequer restaurant served patrons under the name the 226 Club. In Bridgeport, Schaller’s Pump got its name from the pipes that poured beer directly into the barroom from the home brewery next door.

It is safe to say that Chicago never really sobered up in the 1920s. Check out the full list of Chicago bars with an illicit past.

Chicago's former speakeasies

Butch McGuire's

Allegedly operated as a speakeasy called “Kelly’s Pleasure Palace” with tunnels that run under the building and street, the bar was later a strip club and brothel run by a Chicago mobster. It was called Bobby Farrell’s Sho Lounge before Butch McGuire purchased it in 1961.

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Chicago

Burwood Tap

Operated as a speakeasy in the last year of Prohibition, 1933, Burwood Tap was one of the first 20 bars in Chicago to obtain a liquor license after the law was repealed.

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Chipp Inn

This tavern has its origins in 1897 and operated as a speakeasy throughout the Prohibition years.

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West Town

Cork & Kerry

Built in 1930, this bar contains a secret area underneath the beer garden where barrels of booze used to be hidden during raids.

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Bridgeport

The Drifter

Critics' pick

Enter Green Door Tavern and walk down the metal staircase leading to the bathrooms—you’ll notice a door to a room that housed a speakeasy in the ’20s. It was patronized partly by Chicago gangsters and got its name from the green door on the side of the building that led to the watering hole. “Green door” was also a common euphemism for a speakeasy at the time. It's a bar once again—the Drifter opened in January 2015.

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River North

Durkin's

From 1918–1933, a soda shop took up the storefront, while Prohibition Willy’s Speakeasy was run out of the back, where there is currently a large back room for Durkin’s. In 1974, when Durkin’s present owners took over and remodeled it, they discovered a secret basement room full of White Horse Scotch and Portuguese brandy.

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Lakeview

The Edgewater Lounge

A tavern has been in this building since 1908. During Prohibition, an auto-parts store served as a front for this speakeasy, while poker games were held in the basement.

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Edgewater

Exchequer Restaurant & Pub

In the 1920s, Exchequer was known as the 226 Club, with a restaurant in the front and a speakeasy in the back. Al Capone lived nearby for a period and was a regular here.

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Loop

Glascott's

Glascott’s was run as a speakeasy called James Morley Soft Drinks during Prohibition.

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North Side
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