The Green Mill: Chicago’s landmark jazz club

| August 11, 2012 More

Green Mill’s marquee, flashing above the entrance

THE place for late-night jazz and cocktails, classic Chicago-style 

The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge is a long-standing jazz club located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Since its opening in 1907, it has hosted performances by many jazz greats and presented a broad range of styles, including traditional, Dixieland, bebop, contemporary, and gypsy jazz.

In the 1920s, the club gained infamy as a hangout for mobsters (one of Al Capone’s people, Jack McGurn, was at one point a part-owner). It has also been featured in several movies, including Thief, High Fidelity and The Untouchables.

Nowadays, the “Mill” retains its speakeasy atmosphere, and in addition to live music every day of the week and special events, it is home to the Uptown Poetry Slam, a series of poetry performances on Sunday nights.

Neon sign behind the stage (top), green candles on linen-covered tables

When you approach the intersection of Lawrence and Broadway (see map below), you will have no trouble finding the club. A large, glittering marquee with “Green Mill Cocktail Lounge” on it hangs above the entrance.

The place was initially called “Pop Morse’s Roadhouse” and was a frequent stop for mourners headed to a nearby cemetery. The name was later changed to the “Green Mill Gardens,” and finally to its current form. It is a nod to the Moulin Rouge (“Red Mill”) in Paris, and “green” was selected to distinguish the venue from the city’s red light district establishments.

The club’s no-nonsense attitude continues today. Upon entering, you will be greeted by a bouncer, who will inform you to turn off the phone and keep your voice down during music. The same announcement is repeated before each set, and the staff (as well as some regulars) are serious about the policy. You can sometimes hear people shushing those who are talking during performances.

The front part of the Green Mill features a bar, lining the left side of the room, curving around the corner and ending by a retro juke box. There are several green velvet-upholstered booths around the bar area and more seating near the stage, but the space is intimate and fills up quickly. When that happens, patrons are asked (and expected) to share their table with others. Near the curve of the bar is a booth once preferred by Al Capone. With a view of the main and side exits, it allowed him to keep a watchful eye on both doors.

In the left-hand corner near the stage is the statue of Ceres, Goddess of Harvest, nicknamed Stella by Starlight by Green Mill performers, in honor of the classic jazz tune. Art deco and art nouveau wall art and light fixtures complete the throwback décorof the club.

Weekday performances, featuring regular acts, are from 9pm until 1am ($6 cover), Friday and Saturday shows from 8pm until Midnight ($12 cover), and Sunday’s poetry slam from 7pm until 10 pm ($6 cover). Most Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights also feature late-night jazz.

Stella by Starlight (left) and musicians during a performance

Getting There and Links

Green Mill Jazz Club
4802 N. Broadway Ave.
Phone: (773) 878-5552
Website | Calendar | Facebook

Cash or American Express only, ATM on site
Public transportation: Red Line (Lawrence stop)

Sources consulted:
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Chicago Bar Project

Tags: ,

Category: CITIES

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About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

Comments (26)

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  1. You not only provide the suggestion of the club but you do such an amazing job of giving us a mental image of the places or settings you describe in your writings – that’s a great gift! When I return to Chicago, I hope to get to experience the Green Mill!

    • Raul – I really appreciate your kind words!! Thank you so much. Too bad our tweetup crew didn’t have time to go to Uptown and GM back in May, it could have been fun.

  2. Now this is my kind of place…yet another reason I finally need to visit Chicago

  3. Somehow, this totally fits for Chicago. I love a good jazz club.

  4. This is what was missing on my perfect day in Chicago! We didn’t go to such a nice place and to be honest, i felt let down..

    An excuse to go back, me thinks!

  5. maybe it’s a good thing we’ve never been to chicago? now we have you to craft the perfect itinerary–not sure we would have found this on our own!

  6. avatar Leah Travels says:

    THIS is the place that my friend who used to live in Chicago told me to visit during our Windy City Tweetup! I hate that we didn’t do this. It looks like such a cool club. I love that mobsters used to hang out here. When I go back to Chicago, you must take me.

  7. avatar lola says:

    ditto what Leah said. dying to return to Chi-town and have you be our exclusive tour guide. want to hit this place FO SHO!

  8. Nice summary of the history and how the club works. Such a cool place. I need to go back soon.

  9. While it wasn’t a jazz club, this venue reminds me of a concert place in Annapolis – The Ram’s Head. Very small and intimate but awesome atmosphere for a concert – but no bouncers in Annapolis :)

    • There is something fascinating about smaller venues and I find myself drawn to them more often than bigger ones. Maybe it’s because you can be a few feet away from the performer and there are fewer distractions. Thanks for stopping by, Jeremy!

  10. avatar Aaron says:

    Another place to add to a future Chi-town itinerary. :) What a great history. Look forward to your upcoming hangout destinations posts!

  11. avatar Warren Riley says:

    We have a concert that we are goin to August 8, 2014 at Tinely Park Amphithearte. The next day we plan on goin to The Green Mill to check out the machete in the afternoon. Looking forward to it!

  12. avatar balkanyrudej says:

    Looks impressive. Maybe I’m not very in to jazz but this kind of music is good to listen “live”, because it changes everything.