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Chicago’s Enduring Speakeasies And Prohibition Era Bars

November 24, 2011 6:00 AM

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock.com

Photo Credit: Thinkstock.com

In terms of big city bar history, Chicago’s is among the most storied–and sudsy. The Windy City has become synonymous with the Prohibition Era thanks to pop culture and American history’s enduring fascination with Al Capone, speakeasies, bootleggers and the Mob. Modern-day Chicago can still lay claim some of the country’s best and most fascinating bars, many which have been pouring beers and slinging shots since the days of the 18th Amendment. Here are a few of the city’s greatest bars and former speakeasies that not even Prohibition could stop, open for business so you can wet your whistle – no password required.

the berghoff Chicago’s Enduring Speakeasies And Prohibition Era Bars

(credit: TheBerghoff.com)

The Berghoff

17 W Adams St
(between State St & Dearborn St)
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 427-3170
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-9pm; Sat 11:230am-9pm
www.berghoff.com

Chicago’s oldest restaurant, The Berghoff, also has city liquor license #1. Still owned by the Berghoff family, original owner Herman Joseph Berghoff staked out city hall so he could make a run for the first liquor license once Prohibition ended. Opened in 1898, The Berghoff stayed in business when Prohibition hit by actually playing the rules: instead of serving beer, the bar pumped out “near beer” (low-alcohol malt beverages) and Bergo Soda Pop. The soda was the origin of Berghoff’s famous root beer, which is still sold today.

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(credit: Green Mill's Facebook )

The Green Mill

4802 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 878-5552
Hours: Daily 12pm-4am
greenmilljazz.com

Before it was famous for jazz and slam poetry, The Green Mill had a reputation as Al Capone’s favorite hangout. Beginning as Pop Morse’s Gardens in 1907, the bar maintained normal operations despite Prohibition laws a few decades later thanks to police bribes made by a Capone henchman–and part owner in the club. The Mob boss famously favored a seat in the booth across from the side door on Lawrence and at the end of the bar so that he could see who was coming in and out. Today this Uptown hangout is more likely to get rowdy due to a poetry slam rather than a police bust, but the Prohibition Era legacy is still intact–as are Capone’s once-secret escape tunnels beneath the bar.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock.com

The Hangge-Uppe

14 W Elm St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 337-0561
Hours: Mon-Fri, Sun 7pm-4am; Sat 7pm-5am

The basement of this Gold Coast bar was a speakeasy during Prohibition and has associations with crimes even more lurid than smuggling booze: murder. Details are sketchy, but local legend holds that a young woman was killed in the basement during Prohibition and her ghost haunts the bar to this day. Despite the alleged paranormal activity, throngs of revelers from the Division and Rush area come to drink, dance and party on one of the bar’s multiple DJ-pumped dance floors. You won’t get busted by the fuzz for drinking in the basement of the Hangge-Uppe anymore, but the police still cite patrons who try to take the party outside (or to the bar’s nearby alley).

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(credit: Thinkstock.com)

Cork & Kerry

10614 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60643
(773) 445-2675

Tucked down south in the Beverly neighborhood, this neighborhood bar kept a secret beneath its sprawling beer garden when it was built in 1930: barrels upon barrels of booze that flowed into the speakeasy inside. With the threat of Federal raids long gone, Cork & Kerry’s pub atmosphere is comfy convivial. In addition to its former life as a Chicago speakeasy, the South Side bar is a favorite hub in the historically Irish neighborhood during St. Patrick’s Day and other festivals when the lights and decorative displays are shown in full force.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock.com

John Barleycorn

658 W Belden
Chicago, IL 60614
773.348.8899
Hours: Tues-Fri 5pm-2am; Sat 11am-3am; Sun 9am-2am
www.johnbarleycorn.com

This famous Lincoln Park establishment had several decades of legitimate bar operation before Prohibition forced the Barleycorn to board up its windows and doors. From the outside, the shuttered bar looked like a vacant property, but on the inside, Barleycorn did brisk business as one of the city’s most active speakeasies. The rear dining room of the restaurant became a Chinese laundry, a convenient front for bootlegging with barrels of liquor rolled in on carts topped with laundry. Nothing so sneaky goes on today, and John Barleycorn was so successful post-Prohibition that the bar expanded to two additional locations.

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(credit: Thinkstock.com)

Schaller’s Pump

3714 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60609
(773) 376-6332
Hours: Weekdays 11am-9pm; Sat 4pm-9pm; Sun 3pm-9pm

Locals have been sideling up to this Bridgeport bar since the 1880s. Back in the days of Prohibition, Schaller’s was a bit more exclusive, with entry allowed only to those who had been screened at the door via a peephole on the side of the building. When Prohibition laws kicked in, beer was pumped into the house via the neighborhood Ambrosia Brewery that ran lines of beer to the house. These days Schaller’s is an unofficial hub of political, cultural and sports-based action. Situated in “the neighborhood of mayors” (five of Chicago’s mayors were born there) Schaller’s is the go-to pub for the Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District’s democratic offices across the way, White Sox fans and old-school Chicagoans of any stripe.

Kim Bellware is a writer, producer and print maker living in Ukrainian Village. Her non-writerly pursuits involve soccer, perfecting Spanish tapas recipes and spending more time seemingly fixing her bike than she does actually riding it.
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