“Southport Lanes has lasted nearly a century by evolving, at various times serving as a tavern, bowling alley, speak-easy, brothel and illegal off-track horse betting venue.
“But the Lakeview mainstay, which opened not long after another pandemic, couldn’t survive COVID-19. The bar, restaurant and bowling alley will close its doors for good Sept. 27, after 98 years in business at 3325 N. Southport Ave.
“‘It’s another COVID casualty,’ said Steve Soble, who has owned the business since 1991 with Howard Natinsky. ‘… It’s really, really bad out there.’
“The building’s owners, who include Soble, are seeking one or more tenants to move into the space, he said. The well-located property adds to what is expected to be a wave of vacant bars, restaurants and shops in need of tenants by the time the health crisis subsides.
“‘It’s just really, really hard to maintain the business when your sales are down 75% and you can’t use the bowling alley,’ Soble said. ‘At some point you need to stop the bleeding.’
“Retail brokers from Mid-America Real Estate already have been offering the space to potential tenants in recent months. Marketing materials show options for one tenant to take over the entire two-level, 7,500-square-foot space, or for it to be broken into multiple retail spaces.
“I think it’s going to take someone with a different vision than what we’ve been doing,’ Soble said. ‘My guess is that somebody’s going to come around and try to figure out something to do with Southport Lanes. It’s a great building with a lot of character.'” (Ori, 9/17/20)
From the Southport Lanes website:
“We’re Closed. It’s the end of an era. We outlasted Prohibition and the 1918 Spanish flu, but not COVID-19. Southport Lanes poured its last beer on Sunday, September 27, 2020. We are overwhelmed and deeply touched by how many of you came out to pay your respects to Lakeview’s historic 98-year-old bar, bowling alley, and billiards hall. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your patronage and friendship throughout the decades.
“A Brief History… Southport Lanes, first named The Nook, was built by the Schlitz Brewery sometime around 1900. Schlitz built several “tied houses” throughout Chicago, and their buildings are marked by the Schlitz logo emblazoned on the façades. Federal laws later prohibited brewers from owning taverns.
“In 1922, The Nook’s name was changed to Southport Lanes, and the 4 hand-set bowling lanes were added. Sometime during the ’20s, the tavern became a speakeasy with a brothel upstairs; there is even a dumbwaiter still in existence which used to bring refreshments to the girls and their male clients. Legend has it that Mayor Anton Cermak used to hold a weekly poker game in one of the secret rooms.
“After Prohibition ended, a new building was constructed to the east of the bar room (currently used as a billiards room). Originally, this building housed a gambling facility with direct lines to tracks around the country. In essence, it was an illegal, off-track betting parlor. In the ’50s, the room became a beer hall for rent and a local polling place.
“Southport Lanes was extensively remodeled in 1991 and again in 2003, but always with an eye on preserving the timeless feel of a Chicago institution. Until 2020, Southport Lanes offered an extensive craft beer selection, fantastic bar fare, bowling, and billiards.” (Southportlanes.com)
Preservation Chicago has been urging the City of Chicago to take proactive steps to support and protect Chicago Legacy Businesses. Chicago Legacy Businesses have been supporting Chicago and serving Chicagoans for decades. Now is the time we must recognize, celebrate and support them.
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Chicago neighborhoods are anchored by Chicago Legacy Businesses. Chicago Legacy Businesses are often multi-generational, family-owned, and locally operated. Business owners often live in their community and employ Chicagoans from within their community.
Chicago Legacy Businesses are a reflection of Chicago which is culturally rich and ethnically diverse. Their authenticity and uniqueness contribute to the quality of life for Chicagoans.
Pressure from rising rents and competition from national chains has forced many Chicago Legacy Businesses to close. The economic impact of the pandemic has made it even more challenging for Chicago Legacy Businesses to survive.
By recognizing and celebrating Chicago Legacy Businesses, Preservation Chicago hopes that Chicagoans will choose to support them by “voting with their wallets”. The simplest way for individuals to support Chicago Legacy Businesses is by shopping, dinning and drinking at these establishments.
Additionally, Preservation Chicago hopes that City of Chicago will take steps to pass a Chicago Legacy Business Protection Ordinance to help recognize, celebrate and financially support Chicago Legacy Businesses. Successful legacy business programs have been implemented in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and others.
The Chicago Legacy Business list and map that appears on the Preservation Chicago website is a work-in-progress and is the result of hundreds of responses through a crowd-sourced request for nominations through social media. This Chicago Legacy Business list is a great start, but is far from complete. Preservation Chicago will proactively reach out to chambers of commerce and other neighborhood organizations to try to fill in some of the gaps in the list so that the wonderful diversity that makes Chicago great is better reflected.
We invite you to submit any additional Chicago Legacy Businesses that haven’t yet been added to the list through the comment section below, email or social media. General rules for Chicago Legacy Businesses include: located in Chicago, locally-owned, and in business for at least 25 years old.