Carol’s Pub in Uptown.

Carol’s Pub in Uptown, where WBEZ’s “Curious City” crew learned about Chicago tavern history.

Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Chicago tavern history: Did you know the vote to make us a city happened in a bar?

To get the lowdown on bars, beer and Chicago, WBEZ’s Curious City podcast crew headed to Uptown’s iconic Carol’s Pub with a couple of experts.

Even before Chicago was a big city, its drinking establishments served as oases for the tired, the thirsty, the lonely.

WBEZ’s Curious City podcast crew stopped in at the iconic Carol’s Pub in Uptown for a night of beer, honky-tonk and Chicago bar history with writer Robert Loerzel — who has reported on the history of Uptown’s nightlife and entertainment scene — and Liz Garibay, founder and executive director of the Chicago Brewseum.

Between downing some Chicago Handshakes and Chicago-style hot dogs, here’s what we learned:

Chicago became a city at a bar

In 1833, people who were decision-makers in Chicago’s nascent years got together to decide what they should do about the growing community around them. They went to the Sauganash Tavern, threw back a few whiskeys and got “nice and loopy like a proper Chicagoan about to make an important decision,” according to Garibay. They voted there and then to turn the village into a township. Four years later, they went back to the same tavern and voted to turn the township into a city.

Some of Uptown’s earliest bars were ‘cemetery saloons’

In the mid-1800s, people left the city to bury their dead at places like Graceland Cemetery or St. Boniface Cemetery, which at the time were well beyond city limits. It was a bit of a hike. According to Loerzel, after a day of mourning, people went looking for a drink. Roadhouses popped up nearby. The most famous one was the Sunnyside — on the edge of Graceland Cemetery. According to the old Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper, “There were hot words and hard fights” at this “cemetery saloon,” as the joints were then known.

Chicago’s first riot was over beer

In the 1840s and 1950s, there were lots of immigrants in Chicago involved in the brewing industry. When Levi Boone, a politician who was a member of the Know Nothing party, decided to outlaw drinking on Sundays, people weren’t having it. Different immigrant groups came together — though most of their members didn’t speak English — and organized, according to Garibay. She says they stormed City Hall. Chaos ensued. But the result was that drinking remained legal on Sundays, and, says Garibay, “The good guys ended up winning.”

Much of the Green Mill’s known history is wrong

Before it became the Green Mill, the famed Uptown jazz club was a saloon run by a guy called Charles “Pops” Morse. While lots of books say it opened in 1907, Loerzel found a building permit for the roadhouse dated 10 years earlier. In those days, it served corned beef and cabbage to Irish immigrants on their way to Calvary Cemetery and also was a place where prizefighting boxers trained. But the stories about Al Capone hanging out there in the 1920s might not be true. According to Loerzel, the Green Mill Gardens, as the bar was then known, was controlled — like most North Side bars at the time — by Capone’s enemies.

Old Style, Malort a match made by ‘marketing savvy’

When it comes to drinks associated with a city, New Orleans has the Sazerac, New York’s got the Manhattan, and Chicago has the Chicago Handshake: a shot followed by a beer chaser. For a long time, any old beer and a shot would do. That’s in part because, though Chicago’s always had plenty of breweries, the city never produced a national beer brand as places like Milwaukee and St. Louis did. “We were drinking all our beer,” Garibay said, “so there was never really a need to export.” Eventually, the companies that make Malort and Old Style decided to lay claim to the Chicago Handshake. But that was nothing more than “marketing savvy,” Garibay said — cashing in on something already well established as Chicago’s drink.

Drinking buddies? Our needs are simple

We surveyed people that night at Carol’s Pub, asking what they look for in a friend to go drinking with. About 40 responded. The most important attribute in a drinking buddy for them: always being available. Cheers to that.

WBEZ Curious City

This story originally appeared on WBEZ’s Curious City, a podcast that answers questions about Chicago and the region.

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