By Denise Kiernan
Denise Kiernan is a journalist and writer whose work and travels have taken her from the undulating and stiletto-crippling cobblestoned streets of Rome to the soccer stadiums of Central America and the Great Wall of China. Along the way, she has kept her fair share of secrets and sources, and she most recently dove headlong into the lives and formerly classified documents of the Manhattan Project in her 2013 New York Times bestseller, The Girls of Atomic City.
If you’re planning a top-secret government project (or a clandestine rendezvous) over drinks and you don’t want to attract too much attention, there are imbibing options aplenty in Chicago — some moody, some mellow — where maintaining a low profile is easy and privacy rules. The uber-classified Manhattan Project may have taken its name from New York, but Chicago’s role in the World War II endeavor to harness the power of the atom is a major one, and many of the project’s key players lived, worked–and likely drank–in Chicago during the war. The Girls of Atomic City author Denise Kiernan dishes on Chicago spots where the mood is right for keeping mum, minding your own business and soaking up some history.
Green Mill Jazz
4802 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60640
No one knew better how to keep a secret in a town the size of Chicago than the city’s legendary bootleggers. Green Mill remembers a time when secrets were sacred–especially where you kept the hooch. Bebop over to this lounge to soak up some outstanding jazz performances (cover charges vary) or just some rum-running history. Once a favorite hangout of Al Capone, the Green Mill still has its speakeasy-era trap door behind the bar and labyrinth of tunnels beneath, tipsy vestiges of the days when alcohol had to be transported on the sly. Don’t bother asking for a tour of the tunnels today–the answer is “no.” You’ll have to keep your secrets, and your booze, above ground.
3714 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60609
Few roundups of Chicago “drinkeries” is complete without a mention of Schaller’s Pump, acknowledged to be the city’s oldest bar. Since 1881, Schaller’s has welcomed political thinkers and post-game drinkers, thanks to a Bridgeport location that’s just a stumble from Comiskey Park and bar stools that have hosted their fair share of Second City mayoral rumps. Where better to disappear into the crowd, size up the latest candidates and conceal your whispers beneath the din of the White Sox.
800 North Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
Tucked away on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt Chicago, the NoMI Lounge has views, booze, and a clientele of both Chicagoans and traveling comers and goers. Disappear into a corner or sit before the ceiling grazing windows for a mid-afternoon or late night pow-wow. This gorgeous spot on the Magnificent Mile may not serve an Atomic Cocktail, but the handcrafted drinks are some of the best in the city and the menu does include a “Moscow Mule” for those seeking Cold War libations and, of course, they make a smooth “Manhattan.” The top-secret “project” is yours to supply.
Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap
1172 E. 55th St. (5500S, 1100E)
Chicago, IL 60615
A perennial University of Chicago favorite, this well-worn watering hole is a mere two-tenths of a mile from Manhattan Project and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arthur Compton’s former home and just over a half-mile from Stagg Field, site of the world’s first-ever controlled nuclear reaction. Enrico Fermi, Compton and the rest of the “Met Lab” scientific crew who scrawled their names on a celebratory bottle of cheap Chianti were a few years too early to stop by Jimmy’s for another round–but you can.
University of Chicago Pub
1212 E. 59th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
Perhaps you want that University vibe but desire a setting that’s a little more private. If “semiprivate” will suffice, head down under the University of Chicago’s Ida Noye’s Hall to this basement pub. If you’re associated with the university, an annual membership will run you $10, but fret not: non-members and guests can enter for a mere three-dollar cover charge. No password or secret handshake required.
Denise Kiernan’s book “The Girls of Atomic City” was published in March 2013 by sister company Simon & Schuster.