Classic Royko: A tavern gets taken for a ride, and a cabbie mourns

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Interior of the Green Door Tavern, 1999 | Sun-Times archives

Editor’s note: This column, from Sept. 6, 1963, is the first one Mike Royko wrote.

It was a sad surprise to hop into a cab and find that the driver was a man we once knew as a neighborhood tavern keeper.

“What happened to your tavern?” we asked, as he skillfully gave a compact car the choice of dropping back or plunging into the Chicago River.


“They came in and renewed us. You know, the urban. So I got out of the business.”

It has come to that. At last, after an endless army of enemies has tried, somebody has come along who can defeat the tavern keeper, a breed hardier than cactus.

But then, who can oppose the planner, the expert, the coordinator, with his big charts and graphs?

Somebody always tries when an architectural landmark, such as Hull House, is at stake. But they lose, too.

There is nobody to stand up for the neighborhood tavern keeper. Most of his friends can’t stand up.

“You know, people forget all the good we’ve done,” said the former tavern keeper.

“They think that all we ever did was get people drunk. Sure, but we did other good things, too.

“Take Little League Baseball. We were sort of like pioneers in that.

“I used to sponsor a whole softball team. They weren’t kids, of course. Their fathers played.

“Every Sunday we’d have a game with a team from another neighborhood. We’d play for a half-barrel of beer. Then, after the game, they’d come over to my tavern and drink it.

“Ain’t that better than sitting around all day moping or watching television? We got the people out into the fresh air.

“Today, what kind of places do people go to? Cocktail lounges. Places without any lights. They mess up their stomachs with fancy drinks. And it ain’t the whisky that kills ’em, it’s the other stuff they mix in — juice and stuff.

“I was thinking of opening up one, but the first thing that happens is those hoodlums from the Bossa Nova or whatever they call it — they move in as your partner.

“Another thing. People are moving out into the suburbs and that is making it tough on the neighborhood guy. And it is not as safe for the guy who wants a drink.

“Take one of my relatives. He moves to the suburbs. He ain’t got a neighborhood tavern he can walk to. So one night he goes out for a drink. He has to take his car. On the way home he hits a tree and puts his head through the windshield. It messed up the top so bad he’s got to wear one of those toupees.

“Now, if he would of stayed in his old neighborhood, he could of walked to a tavern. The worst that would of happened is that he might of walked into the tree.

“And if you go into one of these cocktail lounges and try to start a conversation, they think you’re a creep. You got to sit quiet and drink. No singing, no jokes, no nothing.

“I was thinking of opening up another place. But where? I looked around that Old Town neighborhood, but I couldn’t stand running one of those joints.

“You got to play long hair music on a record player. And people sit around playing chess. Then those goofy folk singers come in and play guitars. At least, if it was an accordion . . .

“And all they want to do is talk about philosophy and what meaning there is in their lives. What kind of talk is that in a tavern? I was in one of those joints and asked if anybody knew what was the score of the Cub game. Some babe in black pants laughed at me. Or maybe it was a guy in black pants.

“I took a fare over to one of those fancy projects a couple of days go. You know, where the rich ones live, not the poor ones. There was a cocktail lounge right inside of it.

“And there were all these housewives, or whatever they were, sitting there drinking martinis. Right in the middle of the afternoon.

“They wouldn’t a done that in my joint. I’d tip off the old man. That would be all.”

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