COOL CHICAGO: The Green Mill
Summary: Stylish century-old jazz club where mobsters like Al Capone used to hang out
Address: 4802 N. Broadway Ave.
Cost: Cover charges vary, but $15-20 is usually enough for the cover and a drink or two
Best for: Fans of jazz music or those who want to see Capone’s old hangout
The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge is about as Chicago as it gets. The jazz club opened in 1907 and remains one of the city’s more popular nightlife spots. Patrons come to immerse themselves inthe old-school environment, with music and decor straight out of the ’30s and ’40s.
They also come to experience Chicago gangster history, since Al Capone used to hang out here and regularly used the Green Mill to smuggle alcohol during Prohibition.
Capone and company utilized a series of underground tunnels below the Green Mill which they used to transport booze to other spots around Chicago and to escape when the cops came around.
The tunnels still exist, but you won’t be able to go down there. (Sorry, no tunnel tours!) You can, however, take a seat in Capone’s old booth, which sits at the end of the bar along the wall with clear views of both entrance doors so he could keep an eye on everything and everyone.
Visiting the Green Mill: Parking, Hours, Dress Code, Tickets
Today, the Green Mill hosts shows every night of the week, with an emphasis on traditional and contemporary jazz. Because of its history, the Green Mill is a popular tourist attraction, and you’ll often see guests breaking out their cameras to snap a few pics. They do check IDs, so don’t try to get in if you’re under 21.
The bar is classy and sophisticated, and many patrons embrace the old-school spirit of the place by wearing suits and hats and fancy dresses. That creates a very cool retro atmosphere! That said, there’s no formal dress code at the Green Mill – plenty of folks wear jeans too. You might be a little out of place if you stroll in wearing a tank top and flip flops, though.
Seating is limited at the Green Mill, so arrive early if you want a seat. Especially if you want to try to get Al Capone’s booth! Or show up late and head straight for the dance floor.
The Green Mill dance floor is an awesome sight. Older couples get to relive the music of their youth. Younger couples who have learned to appreciate music way before their time dance hand-in-hand. Strangers dance with each other. It’s a great sight.
Hours are noon to 4 am(!) from Monday to Friday. On Saturday, it’s noon to 5 am, and on Sunday it’s 11 am to 4 am. The long hours are great. Even if you can’t come by at night for a performance, you can always pop in for a drink during the day and soak in the history of Chicago’s mob scene. Like many bars in Chicago, the Green Mill does not serve food.
The Green Mill does not have a parking lot. You can find metered and free street parking in the Uptown neighborhood, but it’s limited.
Your best option is to take rideshare or ride the Red Line subway train to the Lawrence stop. The Green Mill sits only half a block away from the train station, and the Red Line runs 24 hours a day.
Experiencing a Night at Al Capone’s Favorite Cocktail Bar
I went to the Green Mill a couple weeks back and the performance was presented like a radio show from the ’40s. A group of more than a dozen musicians performed the classic music of the era, with various singers providing occasional vocals.
The emcee announced the song titles (This is “Oh Johnny” from 1947) and read aloud advertisements for products like “Mr. Peterson’s Pep Juice.” I really felt like I was back in the 1940s.
Besides the jazz, the Green Mill hosts a weekly poetry slam on Sunday nights. If you’ve never been to a poetry slam, you’re missing out on a great event combining elements of poetry, rap music, and the spoken word. The creativity and intelligence on display are always impressive. The slam has been running for years and goes from 7 to 10 pm, followed by a Soul Jazz night performance.
The club has also been featured in a number of movies, like High Fidelity and The Untouchables, giving movie buffs another reason to stop by.
Winter is actually a great time to visit because there are far fewer tourists in town. You should add the Green Mill to any 2-day Chicago itinerary.
Have you ever visited a jazz club?