Sunday, December 12, 2010


There are many tunnels in the City of Chicago.  Some of them have achieved notoriety.

Kinzie Street Bridge
(The first bridge over the Chicago River is thought to have been a foot bridge
at Kinzie Street.)

For instance, the service tunnels under the city got a lot of press in April of 1992 when some pilings being used to repair the Kinzie Street Bridge punctured the roof of the tunnels and led to their flooding.  Eventually, 250 million gallons of Chicago River Water flowed into them, flooding the basements of many downtown buildings and leading to the evacuation and closure of much of Downtown for several days.

While the city had given permission in 1900 for the tunnels to be built to allow the newly formed Illinois Telegraph and Telephone company to lay cables, the city was somewhat unaware to the full scope of the development going on underground.  The first sixteen miles of the tunnels were dug from the basement of a saloon and the debris carried away after midnight.  Track had to be laid because the city would not allow manhole shafts to be built to allow the distribution of cable from the surface.  Several years later, after the city finally found out about it, debris from the ensuing 60 miles of tunnels was brought to the surface and formed much of the land upon which Grant Park, the Field Museum, and Soldier Field is built.  Because the tunnels were cut from blue clay slightly deeper than 22 feet under the surface, builders became concerned for the safety of the foundations of the larger and larger buildings they were building.  This led to the development of deep caissons which went down to bedrock being built to support the weight of the buildings, a method of construction still used today.  As time went on, the tracks were used to move fuel and commodities around downtown.  Today, the tunnels contain optic fibers upon which much of downtown's communications capabilities are built.

Chicago Tunnel Company Tunnels
(Interestingly, a significant portion of the tunnels were illegally dug, some being on private property. 
Things were a lot looser back then!) 

But for today's post, I'd like to look at a tunnel that also has some illegality associated with it.

During the Prohibition, there were many speakeasies in the city.  The control of the flow of illegal alcohol, and all of the violence associated with it, has given Chicago an indelible image as a gangster town in the world's eyes.  One of the places where Alphonse Capone used to hang out is now callled "The Green Mill".  It was opened in 1907 as "Pop Morris' Roadhouse".  Many a mourner would come to stop there on the way home from a funeral at St. Boniface Cemetery.  By 1910, new owners had transformed the roadhouse into the "Green Mill Gardens", complete with lanterns and an outdoor drinking area.  The bar (and dance hall) took up the entire 4800 block of North Broadway and even had a red windmill perched above it in a nod to Paris' "Moulin Rouge".  Several relatively famous "cowboy actors" from the nearby Spoor and Anderson Studios would actually ride their horses to the bar and tie up for a drink after a hard day of filming. 

By the 1920s, a twentyfive percent stake in the bar was given to "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, a close associate of Scarface, who had convinced a very popular singer-comedian, Joe E. Lewis, not to move his act to the new "Rendevous Bar" at Clark and Diversey by slitting his throat "within an inch of his life".  It is said Joe never quite regained his lush singing voice.

Al Capone, needless to say, did not have to wait for a booth.  He had one that gave a view of both entrances to the club should he need to make a quick exit or enter into a firefight.

Al Capone's Booth at the Green Mill Lounge

So how did they get the liquor into the speakeasy, you might ask?

Beneath the floor of the bar, there is a trap door which leads to a musty warren of rooms and passageways.  There are legends that the tunnels were escape routes for the gangsters and that the hooch was transported to the Green Mill from the Lawrence Avenue lakefront.  Most of these stories are urban legend, because the tunnels existed long before Al made the bar one of his haunts.  It is most likely that the tunnels were used to transport food and drink in the huge Green Mill Gardens complex.  But it is true that the mens' restrooms were located in the tunnels and it is not unlikely that "Big Al" relieved himself at one of the porcelain urinals that still exist there.  In any case, illegal liquor was most certainly stored in the tunnels, just as the legal liquor is today.

Entrance to the tunnel at the Green Mill

This brings me to one of my favorite grill recipes... "Nuclear Steak".  Of course, it has to include hooch, though I can buy it legally now!

1 or 2 1" thick New York Strip Steaks
1/2 to 1 cup Jim Beam Bourbon
1/2 cup  Brown Sugar
1/2 cup K.C. Masterpiece BBQ Sauce

1.  Marinate the steaks in a bag with the above ingredients for about 2 hours.
2.  Prepare a hot charcoal grill.
3.  Grill the steaks at the closest distance that the grill allows to the coals for 7 minutes on each side.
4.  Keep the cover on the grill or the steak will catch fire.
5.  Let the steaks rest for a few minutes in a warm area and enjoy.  It is truly delicious.

1 comment:

  1. The Nuclear Steaks are a true one of a kind treat!
    Dan is neglectful in disclosing why it's called NUCLEAR! The truth is that when you toss the steaks on the grill something close to to a chain reaction happens (remember the Jim Beam) and a mushroom cloud formation can be imagined in the background of smoke! Delectable.