Gin and tonic in Chicago

Al Capone drank here, back when Prohibition made liquor trafficking a risky and highly profitable business, best handled by mobsters. The Green Mill was a speakeasy, one of Chicago’s many. Capone did a damn good job keeping the city, and his favorite bar, wet.

The waitress came around, one of those petite servers you wouldn’t want to meet in a darkened alley. She carried a crammed tray of drinks and asked in the clipped, perfect way that bar servers do what we wanted. On the tip of my tongue was gin and tonic, and not wanting to upset the balancing act that was her shift, I went with it. I didn’t know until after our last round that Templeton rye had been Capone’s favorite.

The Green Mill’s walls are decked with blah landscapes. I sipped my gin and tonic and looked for anything remarkable about the art while we waited for the show, called Paper Machete, to begin. Rococo, my stepdad said of the ornate frames. I countered: mob-inspired rococo. By the looks of it, a table in the same aesthetic would shield you well in a throw-down gun battle, if you had the strength to flip it.

Paper Machete’s MC and self-proclaimed “empress and impresario” welcomed the Saturday afternoon drinking crowd. His ears were studded with diamonds. He was lean, lithe, bald, and utterly fantastic. Looking at him, you couldn’t help but smile. He arched his back and thrust his chest skyward as he belted out the afternoon’s rundown. This was the place to fight off a case of the gloomies.

Wholly unaware of what was about to happen, I imagined Moulin Rouge without the sex, plus millennials, puppets, and a possible hat tip to Capone.

Comedians from Chicago and New York, a journalist from the Chicago Reader, and a cabaret singer who crooned about living in Brooklyn rent free because he AirBnb’d his second bedroom every night got the crowd belly laughing. The millennials who performed were, true to form, rich with self-hate.

Intermission and the gin was wearing off. The server was preoccupied, winding ceaselessly between closely packed tables and booths on the other side of the room. I popped up and shimmied to the bar. Not an unnecessary word between the bartender and me: Gin and tonic and house rye, rocks. This was professional; this was the rush. In Chicago, I imagine this is what they’d call a packed bar.

A drunken couple nuzzled and made everyone around them violently ill in the booth across from us. They drank rounds of Manhattans and talked loudly, drawing hostile stares during the puppet’s food review of gummy bears.

The fun was over, my drink was gone. Back on the street on a dreary Chicago day. I kicked myself later for not having ordered Templeton rye.