Green Mill Lounge serves contails with aside of sophistication
Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
On an inconspicuous street in the middle of Uptown, women rushed into the brown, dingy doors of the Green Mill hoping to escape the biting wind that accompanies Chicago in the spring.
Fit bodies wrapped in silk and linen dresses swarmed like a hive of honeybees around the only doorman who works the lounge. He shined a flashlight covered in dirt and grime on the drivers’ licenses and simply grunted when he was satisfied that they were, in fact, over 18.
The bartenders, dressed in old-fashioned buttoned-down white shirts with ties, shouted orders to customers who grabbed them quickly. You don’t want to make your bartender mad in a place like this. After all, this used to be Al Capone’s joint.
For a new generation of young Chicagoans, the Green Mill offers a place to enjoy a lively Saturday night without the routine and monotony of the trendier clubs. The Green Mill transports you back to an era where you can enjoy the more sophisticated pleasures of nightlife in the 1930’s.
Live jazz musicians play the keys (piano) and men blow the rooftops off with their saxes well into the morning. Old and young alike come here to escape the Top 40 and discover why jazz is still king.
“I love the vibe I get when I’m here,” Vanessa Carillo said. “It’s not like the clubs on State (Street) where all the girls there are wearing those tacky flip-flops and skanky shorts.
Here, I actually feel like a woman.”
This feeling of “woman-ness” might have something to do with the fact that men hold the grungy doors open for the women as they enter and exit. It might have something to do with the fact that several times throughout the evening, men actually gave up their seats so that women could sit down.
That still happens in Chicago?
At the Green Mill it does. And young women seem to be happy to flock to a place that allows them to escape equality for a few hours and experience what it feels like to just be treated like a lady.
“Here, nobody expects you to open your own door or get your own drink,” Lashonda Thompson, a patron, said. “It’s just understood.”
But it’s not just the women that feel transported back in time. The men feel it, too.
“The Green Mill plays music that comes from a time when men were real men,” Thompson said. “So as long as we’re here, they should act like it, too.”
This particular night, the walls are bursting to the seams with Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” and there seems to be a sea of heads bobbing up and down in time with the tune. The women shuffle their feet quickly as their dresses swirl around their stocking-ed legs. This is definitely not the iTunes generation.
Switching gears, the band lays into a melancholy rendition of “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. The tension in the air is palpable as couples wrap their arms around one another and sway to the sound of the trumpet. Conversations become part of the music, never over-powering it, but laying just as much claim to it as the notes. This is a world away from State Street indeed.
“At the normal clubs, all of the girls are so stuck up,” Lamar Williams, another patron, said. “They turn their nose up at you if you ask them to dance or look at you like you’re crazy.”
He went on to explain why he preferred the ladies of the Green Mill.
“They come here expecting to dance and talk,” he said. “It makes all the difference in the world and makes my night a whole lot easier.”
Talking was a big topic on this night. Shunning traditional wisdom that people don’t want to talk when they venture out into the lounges and bars, most agreed that it was the atmosphere of the Mill that made conversations possible.
“The music isn’t like thump-thump-thump,” Sylvester Jones, another patron, said. “So you can actually think and come up with a decent thought.”
But talking might not have been what the original owners had in mind. Opening in 1907, the Green Mill passed through a number of hands before it found its legs. In the late 1920’s,
“Machinegun” Jack McGurn gained a 25 percent share of the club and the rest was history. With a best pal like Al Capone behind him, McGurn wasted no time in making the Mill the place to be on Saturday nights. Capone himself would come to the club to smoke cigars, drink with his friends and enjoy the music. And boy was it some music.
Hosting everyone from Billie Holiday to Anita O’Day, the Green Mill had taken its place in the history books. And that’s what the young people love about it.
“This place has been around since like 1800,” Jones said. “It was here before all of the techno garbage and it’ll be here long after.”
It’s true that the Green Mill has seen its share of hard times.
Once Capone’s crimes caught up with him and he was packed off to prison, the club became the spot for petty gangsters and common criminals. In 1936, his right hand man, McGurn, was gunned down by a rival gang. The Mill was considered a dangerous place to be caught alive in. But all of this just adds to its personality for its current clientele.
“We’re not in danger of getting shot up when we come here,” Gianna McKenzie, another patron, said. “The only thing you have to worry about is pushing your way to the front so you can hear the music up close.”