Chicago's golden era of underground lives on in the city's historic bars.
Wed Oct 27 2010
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During the Prohibition era, Chicagoans refused to let the booze stop flowing in their town. Illegal speakeasies popped up in every neighborhood to help quench a thirsty city. One could find 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 Hundreds faded away when Congress repealed the amendment in 1933, but many applied for some of the city’s first new liquor licenses and remain bars to this day.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. On the other hand, John Barleycorn in Lincoln Park claims it had a Chinese laundry as a cover and smuggled barrels of booze in under dirty sheets. Right across the street, Bugs Moran ran Halligan’s, another hidden watering hole, and down the road, Marge’s Still brewed 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 Loop, the Exchequer restaurant served patrons under the name the 226 Club. Farther south, 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 more than 25 Chicago bars with an illicit past.
1. The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge: 4802 N Broadway. One of Capone’s favorite hangouts. Singer Joe E. Lewis had his tongue cut out by Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, a Capone lieutenant who co-owned the bar, for quitting his regular gig singing at the Green Mill for a job at a rival gang’s club.
2. Butch McGuire’s: 20 W Division St. Allegedly operated as a speakeasy called “Kelly’s Pleasure Palace,” with tunnels that run under the building and street. It was later a strip club and brothel run by a Chicago mobster and known as Bobby Farrell’s Sho Lounge before Butch McGuire purchased it in 1961.
3. The Burwood Tap: 724 W Wrightwood Ave. Operated as a speakeasy in the last year of prohibition, 1933, and was one of the first 20 bars in Chicago to obtain a liquor license after it was repealed.
4. Chipp Inn: 832 N Greenview Ave. This tavern has its origins in 1897 and operated as a speakeasy throughout the Prohibition years.
5. Club Lucky: 1824 W Wabansia Ave. Served as a speakeasy with a hardware store as a front.
6. Cork & Kerry: 10614 S Western Ave. Built in 1930, it contains a secret area underneath the beer garden where barrels of booze used to be hidden during raids.
7. Durkin’s: 810 W Diversey Pkwy. From 1918 to 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.
8. The Edgewater Lounge: 5600 N Ashland Ave. 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.
9. Exchequer Restaurant & Pub: 226 S Wabash Ave. 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.
10. Glascott’s Groggery: 2158 N Halsted St. Glascott’s was run as a speakeasy called James Morley Soft Drinks during Prohibition.
11. Gold Star Bar: 1755 W Division St. This bar was run as a speakeasy and had a “hotel” above it, where customers could pay for their time with teenage Polish girls. The key rack where the room keys once hung is still mounted on the wall next to the front door.
12. The Green Door Tavern: 678 N Orleans St. If you walk down the metal staircase leading to the bathrooms, you’ll notice a curtained entrance to a brick 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.
13. Halligan Bar: 2274 N Lincoln Ave. The infamous Bugs Moran ran this bar as a speakeasy during Prohibition.
14. Hangge Uppe: 14 W Elm St. The Hangge Uppe’s downstairs bar was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Legend has it that a woman who was murdered there in the ’20s still haunts the downstairs bars and women’s bathroom.
15. The Hideout: 1354 W Wabansia Ave. The bar and music club describes itself in this way: “The Hideout is a 100-year-old balloon-frame house, built in two days, still here a century later. Hammers pounding in nails faster than the city could tear it down. Built by undocumented workers at the end of the 19th Century, run by undocumented bootleggers and gin runners, running numbers, racing horses, making deals, and moving in the make.”
16. The Inner Town Pub: 1935 W Thomas St. This bar is more than 100 years old and operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition.
17. Jake’s Pub: 2932 N Clark St. During Prohibition, a candy store at the site of Jake’s was a front to the illegal bar next door.
18. John Barleycorn Memorial Pub: 658 W Belden Ave. The front of John Barleycorn was boarded up during Prohibition while a popular speakeasy operated inside. The bar’s back room was disguised as a Chinese laundry, where patrons would enter the speakeasy and carts full of booze were rolled in under piles of dirty laundry. Bottles were sent up from the basement storage room in a small elevator to be served. During the Depression, John Dillinger was a regular, often buying rounds for the bar after he had a particularly good score.
19. Marge’s Still: 1758 N Sedgwick St. Housed in a building that was constructed in 1885, Marge’s was a speakeasy that served gin made in the second-floor bathtub.
20. O’Donovan’s: 2100 W Irving Park Rd. Previously, O’Donovan’s was known as Schulien’s. It operated for more than 110 years, including during Prohibition.
21. Paramount Room: 415 N Milwaukee Ave. The century-old building that houses Paramount was once a speakeasy.
22. Rainbo Club: 1150 Damen Ave. Where a normal bar might have windows facing the sidewalk and letting light in, the eastern wall of Rainbo Club is windowless and blocked by a thick display case in order to insulate the noise of the rowdy 1920s speakeasy from police.
23. Riverview Tavern: 1958 W Roscoe St. A speakeasy allegedly operated here during Prohibition.
24. Schaller’s Pump: 3714 S Halsted St. This bar has been at its current address since 1881. It became Schaller’s Pump at the end of Prohibition in 1933, named for the fact that the home brewery next door used to pump fresh beer directly into the barroom during Prohibition.
25. Simon’s Tavern: 5210 N Clark St. Founded by a Swedish immigrant, Simon’s was originally a grocery store, opened right after World War I. During Prohibition, the store sold coffee with whiskey in it, until it made enough money to open a full-blown speakeasy in the basement, complete with an alleyway entrance. The speakeasy was called the N.N. Club, or No Name Club.
26. Twin Anchors: 1655 N Sedgwick St. The first floor of this bar was a saloon way back in 1890. When Prohibition came about, it was converted into a speakeasy called Tante Lee Soft Drinks, and operated from the back exit while the front windows were boarded up.
27. Southport Lanes: 3325 N Southport Ave. During Prohibition, Southport Lanes not only served alcohol, but ran a house of prostitution on the second floor. The murals of dancing nymphs that are still on the walls today were the discreet advertisements for the rooms upstairs.
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