Rush Street Chicago: Yesterday and today

My aunt always told me that my grandmother Amelia owned part of Rush Street in the early 1900’s. She said it was located near the Rush street bridge. Though I had heard this story as a child, wasn’t sure what to ask and my Aunt died in the late 1990’s. Other family members have never confirmed the reality. That was the first time I heard about Rush Street.

It wasn’t until the 70’s and early 1980’s that I heard about Rush with an invitation to go party and drink. This was the Las Vegas of Chicago even more popular in the early years before I was able to drink.  The most popular places I visited was Faces but I probably spent more time on Division Street at the Original Mothers and Butch McGuires, the latter that opened in 1961.

The following describes some of the popular places on Rush; yesterday and today:

Whiskey Go Go is still a nightclub in California and has opened the doors for many including the Doors, Van Halen and Steppenwolf. The first opened in 1958 at the corner of Rush and Chestnut in Chicago.

The Backroom a great jazz and blues venue and probably one of the oldest jazz club that began in the 1960’s. It continued on into the 70’s and 1980’s. Musicians specializing mostly in jazz but also touching on soul, funk, R&B and blues, play on an elevated stage on the east side of the room and under a most impressive sculpture created from brass horns, to match the column-like structure that looks like a coatrack made of horns near the southeast corner of the room.

The Happy Medium  was built in 1960, located at Rush and Delaware, which was a combination theater and disco. Helen Reddy actually stared at the club. The owners, George and Oscar Marienthal, also owned Mister Kellys, also on Rush and the London House. The London house opened downtown Chicago in 1946 and created the popularity of jazz musicians including Ramsey Lewis.

Punchinellos was a theatre bar and again celebrities such as Barry Manilow and Della Reese would frequent the bar.

Mister Kellys was launched in 1956 and was truly the leading example of night club celebrity elegance, combining music with comedy, which included the beginnings of Bill Cosby, Bette Midler, Woody Allen and Barbra Steisand. Mr. Kellys was restaurant that also featured the best steak and their famous green goddess salad.

Rush up another bar where many talk of meeting Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa.

Faces opened in the early 1970’s and you could become a member of the club for 50 dollars. I went to Faces a couple of times in the lates 70’s and not sure how I got in, but it was loud though fun for dancing compared to many clubs in Chicago. This was supposedly the best place to meet and greet.

Today,  some of the best bars and restaurants include the following:

Pippins: A great Irish pub with an excellent hotdog, serving from the Downtown Dogs next door, and an extensive beer selection. Pippins has been a part of the Rush Street scene for over 45 years and offers a very authentic Irish experience.

Hugos Frog Bar: Also located in Naperville, Hugos offers excellent mussels and oysters on the half shell including an expansive wine list sharing with the iconic Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse. Gibsons is the first restaurant group to be awarded its own USDA Prime Certification

Tavern on Rush: A great bar and restaurant with a DJ located in the heart of Rush street. They are known for the best calamari and excellent horseshoe bar along with split level seating.

Jellyfish:  Located on the second floor across the street from Hugos and Gibsons, this is a great place for enjoying the cuisines of several countries that include Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. From 3-6pm, you can experience signature cocktails during happy hours.

Favorite Chicago land clubs, taverns and suburban bars: Gone but not forgotten

After exploring extinct restaurant favorites in one article, I decided to check out the bar scene; the gone but not forgotten taverns/clubs in the Chicago land area. Though I don’t drink today, my most frequented places were generally lounges attached to restaurants. I visited my first vodka gimlet and last vodka gimlet at Cavalinni’s in Dolton on Sibley and Chicago Rd. My first was wonderful but after visiting again years later, my last vodka gimlet took everything out of me. I was celebrating a South Suburban College dedication which was once known as Thornton Community College; not knowing I had a serious case of mono. That drink lead me to a doctors visit and was confined to bed for three weeks.

Balducci’s in Willowbrook when my children were little was another lounge/restaurant I liked to frequent with my husband. However, during a Halloween party after trick or treating with my little ones covered in trash bags due to the rain, my stamina was not there. One shot sent me home shivering. Maybe that is why I don’t drink!

After my research, two that I enjoyed during my hayday or whatever it was called was Lassens in Homewood and  Blarneys Island where you traveled by boat to the wild island in Fox Lake. Still open today, Lassens has not changed. Blarney’s Island, located in Grass Lake ,was and still is, the place you wore your swimsuit, danced to local bands , drank alot of beer, always got picked up: catching a ride in a boat. Today, when Blarneys Island is mentioned, I get the usual wide eye looks like you went to that place. Yes, I, too had my moments.

The following gone but not forgotten bars and clubs may bring that smile of oh no, (or oh yes) to your face too!

Nicks Sports Page  was filled with autographed sports stars and pennants because this truly was the American sports bar and only appreciated by the oldtimers from Dolton, Riverdale and South Holland.  For me, Nicks was the best place for a beer and they had excellent hamburgers if you were hungry.

Jukebox Saturday Night had three locations; one on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, Oak Forest and Lisle. Lisle is where I went for a casual return to the 50’s with a girlfriend that always said this was the place she could release all tension and get crazy. It was here that we danced are problems away with contests that included the twist and you could show off your expertise with a hula hoop.

Studebakers owned by Walter Payton was located in Schaumburg/Woodfield Commons and was quite a success. People really had fun with an active dance floor, crazy bar attendants and not potentially dangerous in anyway. They closed but opened to another venture-Thirty Fours. All of this between the late 80’s and early 90’s.

PJ Flaretys in Evergreen Park hosted many rock legends that included Three Dog Night, Edgar Winter,Leon Russell,  Rare Earth and the list goes on since they really tried to pack in new local and national talent. They had a capacity for over a 1,000. Blue Oyster Cult played there on Feb 8th, 1992 with a set list till available on line. You had to buy tickets in advance which were only about 10 dollars and 12 dollars at the door.  Today, that would be the cost of your drink.

Poor Richards Pub in Gurnee was a northside landmark finally torn down and located on Grand Avenue. I remember the bar back in the late 70’s and they actually held one of the largest Miller beer accounts. Halloween parties were always fun while always hosting special events.  It was a comfortable place to wind down and meet people.

Last Chance Saloon was a Grayslake institution for nearly 20 years owned by father and son. Again, known for some fun parties that took place surrounding a Western decor. I actually remember making my first toga and toga party at the Last Chance with a date. It is now Emil’s Tavern on Center street.

Finally, Fiddlesticks in Lincolnshire was a place I enjoyed with a square bar where you could sit on one one side and flirt with others, not too far away, but far enough if you decided it wasn’t the right move. A small, crowded dance floor existed behind one end of the bar.  People always talk of the bars that they met their significant other and I, too, met the man I married and had two children in this bar on Olde Half Day Road. He was quiet…not your average flirt who liked to read books on bar stools rather than assume the normal pick up role. And I loved to read.

(Picture:  a Chicago Speakeasy 1920)