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Chicago’s Southport Lanes closing after 98 years due to pandemic fallout

The Lake View venue reopened for business in July utilizing a small sidewalk cafe, carry-out and most recenty limited dine-in capacity in accordance with state mandates, but the bowling alley was still off-limits.

Southport Lanes is closing its doors permanently on Sept. 27.
Southport Lanes is closing its doors permanently on Sept. 27.
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Chicago’s iconic Southport Lanes bowling alley and billiards parlor is closing permanently on Sept. 27 after 98 years, due to the economic impact brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several local media outlets reported the news Thursday, including Block Club Chicago, which noted business was down 75 percent, according to owner Steve Soble, due to the pandemic shutdown.

The Lake View venue, at 3325 N. Southport Ave., reopened for business in July utilizing a small sidewalk cafe, carry-out and most recently limited dine-in capacity in accordance with state mandates, but the bowling alley was still off-limits.

In an interview with eater.com, Soble said he was not allowed to serve food and have bowling games in at the same time. “Southport Lanes is really about the community getting together, and when you take away these communal spaces and you’re not able to do that safely, it’s really hard to make it work,” he said.

Chris Riste, 16, (left) and Ray Solis set pins at the Southport Lanes bowling alley in 2013, one of the few places left without automatic pinsetters.
Chris Riste (left) and Ray Solis set pins at the Southport Lanes bowling alley in 2013, one of the few places left without automatic pinsetters.
Sun-Times File

Southport Lanes was built by Milwaukee’s now-defunct Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company in the early 1900s and opened for business as The Nook. The name was changed in 1922 when the establishment added four hand-set bowling lanes, according to the venue’s website, which also notes the tavern operated as a speakeasy with an upstairs brothel in the 1920s amid Prohibition.

A building extension was added in the early 1930s, and the structure underwent renovations in 1991 and 2003.