Like an old Brunswick mahogany bar or the Schlitz globes adorning the former tied houses dotting Milwaukee and Southport Aves, traces of Chicago’s history resonate in its architecture. Fittingly, there are a bunch of places where you can eat and drink with figurative — and in one case, literal — city ghosts. From speakeasies to old banks, a mobster social club, a haunted performance hall, a bathhouse, an ice skater warming house, and one house built in 48 hours, here are the strange histories of 10 Chicago restaurant and bar locations.
The Bedford was a bank (and you can still drink in the vault)
Literally anchoring this sprawling lower-level restaurant and bar is the clearest indicator of its origins: a massive bank vault where drinkers can sip cocktails amid the walls lined with lockboxes. Built in the 1920s, this historic landmark designed by Karl M. Vitzthum originally housed the Home Bank & Trust. The name is inspired by the exterior, built from limestone mined in Bedford, Indiana. You can also find original aspects of the building’s design in a few other unexpected places, such as wooden safe-deposit box viewing rooms in the restrooms and teller windows used as accent lights in the ceiling of the private dining room.
Sepia used to have a booby-trapped store room
This aptly named Michelin-starred restaurant was built in the 1890s as a print shop. The space had several other businesses after the print shop closed — a courier service up front and an avant-garde theater in back — but the print shop left the most lasting impression on the current owners. During renovation before Sepia opened in 2007, the owners uncovered a brick room with a safe-like metal door that they determined had probably stored printing plates. What they didn’t know was that the room’s curved ceiling also held several tons of sand. “Once demolition of the room started, the sand filled the room quickly and the demo had to stop,” says owner Emmanuel Nony. “We suspect that the sand was put in the ceiling to protect the printing plates from being stolen from the unit above.”
Hideout was a 48-hour house turned “bar”
A tiny two-story wooden structure surrounded on all sides by massive manufacturing facilities, the Hideout looks like — as local stand-up comedian Cameron Esposito called it — the real-life version of the house from Up. This balloon-frame house was built in the 1890s most likely by Irish immigrants, as part of a North Branch planned manufacturing district. It’s also called a 48-hour house — denoting how long it took to build, says owner Tim Tuten. “On Friday, the workers laid these long two-by-fours out on ground, nailed them together and propped up the four sides. On Saturday, they put in siding, on Sunday they put in floors and a roof, and on Monday, they went back to work. And hoped the city inspector didn’t show up.”
The house started operating as a public house sometime before 1919, but went completely off the map at the start of Prohibition. A year after alcohol was legalized in 1933, it was licensed as the Hideout Inn and has been operating continuously ever since. Now a low-key neighborhood haunt known for live music, dance parties, Oscar Wilde readings, and offbeat historical reenactments.
TO BE CONTINUED….