A lost treasure in Chicago's jazz history

A lost treasure in Chicago's jazz history

Just when I think I have a good grasp on the city's history, something pops up that blows my mind. I was at 680 N. Lake Shore Drive the other day, and I passed an empty window with Gold Star Sardine Bar written on it. Being the total nerd that I am, I figured this interesting spot would be perfect for a 'Did You Know, Chicago?' feature.

The club was founded in 1982 by Bill Allen, the owner of the Treasure Island grocery chain. A Chicagoan, Allen spent the 1940's frequenting the Manhattan Club scene. He fell in love with the glamour and sophistication and decided to bring it back to Chicago. The sign beside the entrance to the Gold Star Sardine Bar read: ''If you missed New York in the 1940's.'

During its 15-year run, the Gold Star Sardine Bar hosted some of history's most famous performers - from Count Basie to Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli. Celebrities would often stop in and do impromptu sets.

The name 'sardine bar' came from the fact that the club was only legally allowed to hold 50 people.

The Gold Star Sardine Bar never charged a cover or had a drink minimum, even though the regular jazz pianist was one of the most famous in town. The cigarettes were free, the ice cubes were made out of Perrier and drinks were never served during performances.

My favorite details is the club's popular lunch item: White Castle hamburgers, purchased every day in volume and reheated when necessary.

So what happened to this glamorous club? The club owed more than $20,000, and Bill Allen was evicted. The Gold Star Sardine Bar was locked shut in 1997.

 

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  • GSSB was a great place!

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