Schaller’s Pump, oldest bar in Chicago, set to close Sunday

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Schaller’s Pump. | Leslie Adkins / Sun-Times

The oldest bar in Chicago, Schaller’s Pump in Bridgeport, poured its final drink Saturday night.

The bar, owned by the same family since 1881, will not open Sunday, according to its owner Kimberly Shinnick. It holds Chicago liquor license No. 6.

Shinnick, reached by phone at the bar Saturday afternoon, declined to provide specifics but told a Chicago Sun-Times reporter, “Yes, the bar is shutting down.”

“This is a really hard time right now,” she added before hanging up.

As word got out, longtime customers like Patricia and Jim McCormick made sure to stop by for one final drink.

The McCormicks have been frequenting the bar for 50 years; both have lived within two blocks of Schaller’s Pump all their lives.

“If they keep closing these South Side saloons, we’ll be reduced to drinking in the alley again,” said Jim McCormick, a retired firefighter.

Patricia McCormick remembered Jack Schaller, the bar’s longtime owner who died last May at age 92. He was such a gentleman, she said, always tipping his hat at customers when they arrived or sat down.

After Schaller returned from World War II, he went to work at the bar, located at 3714 S. Halsted. In 1960, he took over.

“He worked forever,” Shinnick, his daughter, told the Sun-Times last year. “He lived above the restaurant. If he wasn’t in the Pump, he was just taking a cat nap.”

In the last four years of his life, Schaller had paid nothing in property taxes, the Sun-Times reported last year.

Schaller was granted the tax break under the senior citizen assessment freeze. The state of Illinois created it two decades ago as a lifeline for older people who feared they’d be forced out of their homes when their neighborhoods became hot and real estate taxes skyrocketed.

Schaller qualified for three exemptions provided under state law — the homeowner exemption, which knocks $7,000 off a property’s assessed value; the senior exemption, worth as much as $5,000; and the senior assessment freeze, which provides the owner with a cut based on the difference between the home’s assessment when it was frozen and the current assessment

Without those, he would have owed $6,128.66 in taxes on his bar and the apartment upstairs.

Shinnick told the Sun-Times last year that with her father’s death, she expected the two senior citizen exemptions to be terminated.

“I was told we’ll be hammered,” Shinnick said at the time.

Tom Frawley, a former bartender at the tavern, said he was at a wedding Saturday when he heard the news.

“I gave the bride the envelope and said I gotta go see about a thing,” he said. “It was the history that made it great. I was coming here at 5 years old for Opening Day.”

The bar, which sits across the street from the 11th Ward Democratic Party Headquarters, the longtime Daley family power base, has long been a favorite of White Sox fans.

“It’s sad to hear that this Bridgeport institution — just blocks from our ballpark — is closing,” Scott Reifert, team spokesman for the White Sox, said in an email Saturday evening.

“Generations of White Sox fans made a stop at Schaller’s part of their tradition when attending a Sox game. I am sure that fans who can not get to Schaller’s tonight are still likely to raise a glass wherever they are to honor this icon of Chicago history.”

Patricia McCormick said the bar was packed before and after every Sox game, “but we we always knew we could get our table when the first inning started. So we’d come then and always get our spot right over there,” she said pointing to a nearby table.

“This was an affordable place you could go and bring your whole family, a place that was family owned. There doesn’t seem to be many left like this.”

As disappointed as she is about the bar closing, Patricia McCormick said she knows it’s worse for the Schaller family.

“If I see a Schaller, I won’t say, ‘Why are you closing? I’ll say thanks for 50 years.'”

Contributing: Tim Novak, Maureen O’Donnell

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