Chicago, popularly known as the “Windy City”, is also famous for its rich musical effervescence and the occasional resonant sounds of a saxophone being played in the distance can sometimes be heard. Many famous musicians made this their home and world renowned musical venues are myriad, including the Chicago Theatre and the Chicago House of Blues. In the north side of the city, a bar often associated with Italian-American crime boss Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone has become a popular venue for live jazz in Chicago. A two minute walk away from the Lawrence stop of the “L” train, the Green Mill is easily accessible by public transportation and its bright sign is clearly visible from the train station, even at night.
Entering the Green Mill felt like stepping into a time capsule. Smaller than I expected for one of the best jazz bars in the world, it was a very quaint, dimly lit bar with wooden counters, a functional old jukebox with an amazing collection of jazz classics and a tiny stage packed with a number of instruments. Depending on where you sat a pole could end up in your field of view but this detracted little from the experience. Pictures of the greats who had graced this joint decorated a table behind the bar; clearly this place was proud of it’s history. The bouncer admitted that the decor hadn’t changed much since the days of Al Capone and showed me the table where the notorious mafia kingpin would sit in order to have a clear view of the entrance.
Legend has it that when Al Capone visited the Green Mill he locked the doors and allowed nobody to enter or leave the venue. He also generously paid the tab of everyone who happened to be there at the time. The Green Mill was situated in territory controlled by Capone’s nemesis, Bugs Moran, however, one of his hitmen owned a part of the bar. Nobody knows how often Al Capone visited the area.
A gypsy-jazz band named lePercolateur graced the stage on the night I visited. They consisted of an upright bass, fiddle, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and a female vocalist. The vocalist was capable of complex riffs and seemed very fond of “scat singing”, reminiscent of the late Ella Fitzgerald. The other instrumentalists provided sound accompaniment for the vocalist: the bassist and acoustic guitarist were consistent and the fiddler and electric guitarists were versatile and both able to steal the show at any point with an extended solo. The crowd enjoyed themselves immensely and burst into spontaneous applause at intervals. This is a great band to check out if you’re looking to expand your musical palette.
Instead of being limited by its size, the Green Mill provides the visitor with an intimate musical experience. You are so close that you could actually touch the performers if you stretched a little, thus every word and note is perfectly audible. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the Chicago area.