Chicago is rather notorious for fighting Prohibition tooth and nail. It’s actually really interesting to take a look at all the different fronts these hidden bars, or “speakeasies,” used to pull one over on law enforcement. Many of these Chicago speakeasies are still open—perhaps a testament to the fact that a love for alcohol is timeless, and, in some cases, lawless. Learn what you favorite establishments around town used to be like during the Prohibition Era, and thank your lucky stars you no longer have to duck into a back alleyway, roam through underground tunnels, or memorize any secret passwords just to get a craft cocktail in The Windy City.
Now: Named as a hybrid of the two streets it sits on (Burling and Wrightwood), this bar boasts a ridiculous amount of sporting memorabilia.
Then: It was “Lincoln Park’s Finest” soda shop, a front for the activities going on in the back. It was eventually one of the first 20 establishments to obtain a legal liquor license.
Now: Known by some as a hookup bar, this ideal Division Street spot has sold over 23 million glasses of beer.
Then: The building went through a few name changes including “Kelly’s Pleasure Palace” and “Bobby Farrell’s Sho Lounge.” More than a few illicit activities happened both here and in the tunnels running under the building.
Now: Super cheap beer, including Schlitz pitcher specials. Very unpretentious with lots to do: karaoke, darts, pool, and an annual spelling bee.
Then: There’s not much documentation available on its speakeasy days, but the bar dates back to 1897.
Now: Great Italian food in a swanky lounge setting. Go for the vodka martini to pair with a Sicilian-inspired dish.
Then: Club Lucky had a hardware store as their front during Prohibition, but also was a polling place and Polish banquet hall during its lifetime. Their signature speakeasy drinks were gin martinis.
Now: A 4 AM bar that many people consider to be their regular spot.
Then: It was called the Hiawatha Club (“Pizza Lounge”). Pizza goes great with beer, so go figure.
Cork & Kerry
Now: Free popcorn and cheap Irish beers.
Then: Named for two southwest counties in Ireland. Irish people like beer—the authorities should’ve known.
Now: Holds the oldest continuous beer license, at least on the North Side. An Irish-style pub that college kids and recent graduates love to patronize.
Then: Known to those in the know as “Prohibition Willy’s Speakeasy,” with a soda parlor as the front.
Now: Many craft beer options for the enthusiast with truly eclectic decor (and patrons).
Then: Their front was an auto parts store, with booze in the back and poker games played down below. A one-stop shop!
Now: The backdrop to 3 major films (Ocean’s Eleven, Uncle Buck and Backdraft) in the past 15 years. An Irish pub that makes Irish people proud to visit.
Then: Not much is known about its speakeasy days besides the fact that it definitely was one.
Exchequer Restaurant Pub
Now: Delicious pizza and wings, along with other great American food favorites. Closes pretty early—between 11am and 12pm, depending on the day.
Then: Known as the “226 Club,” the front was simply a restaurant. Has also been known as “Wonder Bar” and “Browns.”
Now: One of the oldest bars in Lincoln Park, affectionately known as a hook up bar. And not short lived ones, either—they usually end in marriage and a move to the suburbs.
Then: In the speakeasy days, it was called “James Morely Soft Drinks.” Are you starting to notice a trend? Also known as “Larry’s Tavern,” the place has also been a meat market.
Gold Star Bar
Now: Free popcorn and sometimes visits from the Tamale Guy. Cheap beer.
Then: A speakeasy with a “hotel” above it, or a place to “visit” with teenage Polish girls.
Green Door Tavern
Now: “The Drifter” is the modern “speakeasy” that carries on the tradition in the back of this poppin’ River North spot. Ask about the tarot card drinks.
Then: Green Door Tavern is a bar that was very notorious back in its speakeasy days, and also remembered as one of the first buildings to go up in the Great Chicago Fire.
Now: Still an amazing place to see live jazz and get a great cocktail, especially after seeing a show at Aragon Ballroom. Has been featured in films like The Untouchables and High Fidelity.
Then: Al Capone’s favorite speakeasy. Leased to the mob. Singer Joe E. Lewis got his tongue cut out here—ouch!
Now: A neighborhood bar amongst a sea of sports bars. A play on words—the Halligan is a tool used by firefighters, and you’ll find some interesting related memorabilia inside.
Then: Not much is known, but it was a speakeasy. It has also been known as “Jerry’s Video Night Club.”
Now: A pretty sloppy 4 AM bar that most Chicagoans will tell you they regret going to, then show up again the next week. On a completely unrelated note, did you know this place is haunted?
Then: Confirmed as a speakeasy. Also known as “Sully’s” in the past.
Now: Looks like a residential house, but is really a semi-hidden bar. Interesting musical acts come through. No pretension, here.
Then: Definitely a speakeasy of the past.
Inner Town Pub
Now: Elvis fans will feel right at home. A little grungy, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Then: Has been both a Polish tavern and speakeasy in the past.
Now: Not a biker bar; definitely a dog bar. Also a small neighborhood spot for locals.
Then: How sweet: their Prohibition-era speakeasy front was a candy store.
Now: You’ll know John Barleycorn as a modern-day go-to for heavy drinking and partying in Wrigleyville.
Then: An Irish immigrant moonlighting as a police officer opened this bar. The path of least resistance during Prohibition was to board up the outside to make it appear vacant. A Chinese laundry front made it easy for bootleggers to bring in liquor. John Dillinger was said to frequent this speakeasy.
Now: The “still” is used to make whiskey, but is also a reference to its ownership (despite her death) to Marge, the previous owner.
Then: Marge’s Pub. Gin was made in the bathtub upstairs. Classy.
Now: An Irish bar with a penchant for magic (acts).
Then: Known previously as Schulien’s with a speakeasy that operated out of the basement.
Now: Low-brow drinks and a gastro pub.
Then: Previously a basement speakeasy.
Now: A funky Wicker Park bar with many nods to the past.
Then: Notorious for a lack of windows—this made it easier to insulate the noise emanating from inside during its speakeasy days.
Now: Went from neighborhood staple and quasi-museum to now-defunct Riverview Amusement Park.
Then: Alleged host to a Prohibition era speakeasy.
Now: The hardest bar to get into in Chicago. You need to book a room at the Old Chicago Inn to get the password. Proper attire is required, so don’t come looking like a slop.
Then: There was more or less the same level of difficulty to get into this speakeasy back in the Prohibition era!
Now: A go-to for Sox fans, and a “second office” for local democrats.
Then: Confirmed as a speakeasy.
Now: An interesting experience, featuring viking paraphernalia and old-timey Schlitz advertising. No seats!
Then: The basement speakeasy was called the “N.N. Club” (No Name Club), with an alley-accessible entrance. Has also been a grocery store.
Now: Vintage bowling alley, with an extensive craft beer selection and a solid food menu.
Then: Southport Lanes has a very colorful history. It was originally built by Schlitz Brewery. During Prohibition, it was a speakeasy and brothel. It used to be known as “The Nook” and has also been a polling place and beer hall for rent.
Now: Basically, the best ribs in the city.
Then: A speakeasy called, “Tante Lee Soft Drinks” with its windows boarded up.
Whew! There’s no shortage of places to check out to channel your Prohiition-era speakeasy vibes. The good news is that you won’t get arrested if you’re caught today.
Have you been to any of these Chicago speakeasies? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Special thanks to Chicago Bar Project for the very detailed records and history used to assist with this post.