June 9, 2009

Cocktail Talk: Chicago Confidential

Chicago Confidential: The Low Down on the Big Town is a 1950 tell-all by reporters (and authors of Washington and New York confidentials) Jack Lair and Lee Mortimer, which is both “uncensored” and “shocking.” And reading it, I’m sorta shocked. The indie-rock haven that I know and love used to be a combination of Sodom, Gomorrah, and a Rambo movie, with more sex, death, grifts, grafts, and gambling than this poor boy can understand. Maybe the authors toned it up just a snitch? And maybe Chicago just used to be more rootin’ and tootin’. Maybe I just lived in the wrong neighborhood? Maybe if I would have crick’d my neck out longer (ala PhiSmi) I would have seen more? But wait, wait! This isn’t about Chicago and its malcontents, this is a quick paean to my favorite Chicago bartender and longtime close pal, Joel Meister. See, Mr. Joel (as many know) lives in rowdy Chicago, and tends bar, and rules, damnit, rules. Which is why I want to dedicate this quote to him, completely un-confidentially.

Burlesque bars are few on the near North Side beyond the mile of Clark Street dumps. There is only one open stripper on Rush Street, the Spa. Most establishments are restaurants or cocktail lounges with only a singing pianist, male or female, for entertainment, plus the inevitable B girl. The initiates hang around to drink, talk, meet old friends or pick up new ones. But the bartenders will get you anything you want–tell you where there is a crap game, contact call girls, or take a bet on the horses. Throughout Chicago, bartenders function to a much wider extent than they do in any other known place. It is the fashion to advertise their names in connection with saloons and restaurants, as though they are stars. And some of them are, with individual followings because of their wide usefulness. Their local appellation is “the mixo,” and they are heavily tipped.


–Jack Lair and Lee Mortimer, Chicago Confidential


PS: Don’t forget, when in Chicago and having Joel pour you or shake you or strain you one: “they are heavily tipped.”

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