Chicago’s one-of-a-kind Southport Lanes survived Prohibition and the Great Depression but not, apparently, COVID-19. Its owner said Wednesday it is closed for good and its memorabilia will be sold at auction.
That means most everything inside the old Schlitz-tied tavern at 3325 N. Southport Ave. that evolved into a combined bowling alley-billiard hall-neighborhood hangout. The auction site Winternitz said items to be sold include the bowling lanes, the antique manual pinsetters, the nearly century-old bar and an even older Illinois Bell phone booth.
Southport Lanes closed in September 2020 because of the pandemic and never reopened, despite getting state and federal money. Owner Steve Soble confirmed the auction plans but declined additional comment.
On his behalf, spokeswoman Lacey Irby said permanently closing the business was a difficult decision. “After giving it a lot of thought, unfortunately the owners do not see the business recovering anytime soon,” she said. Irby had no comment on the future of the property in Lake View.
Southport Lanes received a loan under the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program. A database for PPP money maintained by the news organization ProPublica showed that the business received $200,400 and that the amount was forgiven in April.
It also received a $70,000 grant from the state of Illinois that Soble said in January was “a life preserver” that would let him catch up on bills and pay forthcoming city licenses. He said then he had failed to sell the business and hoped to reopen.
Irby declined to comment on the PPP loan or the grant. PPP rules allowed the loans to be forgiven if the business used most proceeds on payroll and other eligible expenses.
The Winternitz site said Southport Lanes’ memorabilia, including its furniture, murals and street sign, will be auctioned online at 10 a.m. July 20. Items can be inspected beforehand by appointment, the site said, and bids can be submitted beginning Tuesday.
Southport Lanes operates in a building that started life in the early 1900s as a tavern tied to the Schlitz brewery. In the distant past, it’s been a brothel, speakeasy and gambling den.
Soble also owns the closed bowling alley Seven Ten Lanes in Hyde Park. While a reopening hasn’t been scheduled, Soble has said he’s in a better fiscal situation there because of concessions from his landlord, the University of Chicago.
The city has awarded landmark designation to several taverns that were long ago affiliated with the Schlitz brewery, but Southport Lanes was not among them.