Chicago is known worldwide for its wealth of jazz history, and the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge on the north side of the Windy City is the the cream of the crop. Located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, the Green Mill Lounge is home to more than 100 years of history, a century of world-famous musicians and American mobsters alike.
Named as a nod to Paris’ Moulin Rouge (‘Red Mill’), the Green Mill Lounge was a popular hotspot for Chicagoan film artists to hang out after a long day of work. Located four blocks away from Essanay Studios, the Green Mill hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra and Charlie Chaplin. Over time, the lounge featured jazz greats such as Von Freeman and Kurt Elling and was decorated with a full-sized nude statue of Ceres, the Goddess of Harvest, which still stands in the lounge today.
But during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and early 30s, things began to turn sinister. Jack McGurn of the Chicago Outfit, the mafia run by Al Capone, took over the lounge and made it a speakeasy for Chicago’s mobsters. The lounge rules were strict: Whenever Capone entered the room, the bandleader would stop whatever he was playing and perform Capone’s favorite, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” And when singer Joe E. Lewis left the lounge for a higher paying job, he was slashed in the throat by McGurn (although he managed to survive), inspiring the 1957 film The Joker Is Wild.
Under the ownership of McGurn, Capone made the Green Mill his lounge of choice. His favorite seat still exists in the lounge today, strategically located to offer the mobster views of both the front and back entrances in case of danger.
What many guests of the Green Mill are unaware of, as it is hidden from plain sight in the lounge, is that beneath the bar there is a network of underground tunnels. The tunnels, originally created to transport coal for the Green Mill’s boilers, were purportedly used by the mafia to store and traffic illicit booze. Local rumor also has it that Capone used the tunnels as a secret escape route when the cops came around, adding to the Green Mill’s historical intrigue.
Today, the Green Mill is less famous for its gang activity and better known for its jazz shows. Featuring premier jazz musicians, such as John Bany and Alfonso Ponticelli, and a classic neon “Green Mill” sign, the lounge truly takes guests back to the 1940s. The Green Mill is also home to the Uptown Poetry Slam, the first poetry slam in the world.