Friday, December 10, 2010

A GREAT CHICAGO STORY

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Having grown up in the Chicago neighborhood tradition under the senior Mayor Daley, I found this story absolutely delightful.

Andrew Sullivan, raised and steeped in the tradition of the corner pubs in Great Britain, asked "Where are the authentic corner pubs in America?" and readers began to send pics. One was of a watering hole in Chicago called the Brehon Pub.

Then a reader wrote...

I got a chuckle out of seeing that you used the Brehon Pub to illustrate your post on "authentic" Chicago bars. Brehon (which means judge or lawyer in Gaelic) actually had the least authentic of origins.

It was started in the '80s by federal and state authorities as a sham business (under the name "the Mirage"). Its sole purpose was to catch City of Chicago building and liquor inspectors soliciting bribes from taverns. Those friendly bartenders were all FBI agents and undercover cops. A bunch of people went to jail. When the scandal was over, the place remained a bar under a new name. Not exactly the beginning you'd expect for a cozy neighborhood Irish watering hole.

And one more thing about Chicago pubs. Historically the rule in Chicago was as long as you paid city officials their smallish brides, pretty much anyone could open a bar. That meant, unlike other cities, the early gay bar scene in Chicago was not dominated by the Mafia (Mayor Daley's men would never have let another organization horn in on the bribery income stream). The US's first gay leather bar (Gold Coast) was established in Chicago in the 1950s - a couple of decades before such things were tolerated in other cities. In the late '70s, when federal authorities raided a gay bar named Carol's, the owner (Richard Farnam aka "Mother Carol") led a protest march of 5,000 people on City Hall.

We may not be the most progressive of cities politically, but don't touch our bars.

December 14, 2010: There's a cool follow-up story of saving a popular pub in Chicago from a predator developer.

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