A couple of weeks ago, my dear friend Ina Pinkney (Breakfast Queen of Chicago) handed me a blank folder as we sat down to dinner. "I found this and thought of you," she told me. What was inside? A copy of "Chicago Nite Life" Magazine from 1942.
She knows me so well.
With the subtitle "Where to go, what to see," this is like a seedy, underground version of Where Chicago magazine - the one that the better hotels put discreetly inside the drawers of the bedside tables instead of right out on the desk.
As old ephemera often does, this took me down a rabbit hole filled with personality girls, pub tokens and Rush Street nightlife. Follow along with me!
As you can tell from the cover, this magazine is about Nite Life. And by that, we mean girls, girls, girls, girls, plus this weird homoerotic crop shot where it's made to look like one woman is rubbing the other woman's nipple. Beat that, Michigan Avenue Magazine!
"Food for the epicurean." "Welcome conventioneers." Some things never change. The "Malay Bar," on the other hand? Probably not one of those left in Chicago.
This is the only lounge on this list that isn't long since dead and gone. Ok, well, it kind of is, but something with a similar name opened in the same location last year. It's "air cooled" (which i hope means more than fans) and it's got both a piano-solovox player and a piano stylist, which is really all you need. Plus, the first appearance of the ever-popular "personality girls."
In case you were wondering, a "piano-solovox" was a piano with an early version of a synthesizer attached, so the player could have many kinds of sounds going at once.
I can only guess that Chicago's "Great White Way" is the Randolph Street theater district, based on this postcard (if you squint, you can see "old heidelberg" which is now an Argo tea in a distinctive building on Randolph).
Another spot on Ohio, featuring George "The Goon" West and lots of tables for ladies! By which we really mean "Come on in, gents, we promise there's girls!"
"The Funatics" sonds like a good time - they're insane, crazy, punchy and strictly nuts.
This ad led me down an interesting collectible path. Apparently, clubs used to hand out "tokens" - the gift certificate of the day. If you search, there are thousands of antique pub tokens on ebay for old Chicago bars long since gone. Maybe something new to collect.
Apparently, Chicago's "latin quarter" was about two blocks away from its "Great White Way," a fact that only seems ironic in retrospect. However, i'm sure the alluring and devastating Luba Malina (and her new gowns!) were quite wonderful.
That being said, were any straight men going to these clubs to drool over these women? Ad after ad mentions all the fabulous "new gowns," and I just can't imagine men caring very much. I suppose this could be code for "a new style of lingerie i'm going to strip down to" (kind of like personality girl is a code for .... something), but who knows.
Right here, right now, i'm calling for a revival of the term "Musicale." As we can see from her cone-shaped breasts, the "Scandal of 43" was scandalous indeed!
I can only assume this was for the church-going, less-interested-in-personality-girls crowd who wanted organ music, "strolling instrumentalists" and the finest liquors and foods. Not specific what the liquors and foods are, but since it's plural, I assume they served a little of everything.
Look ma, more personality girls! Plus, "continuous entertainment" which sounds oddly dirty.
Between all the ads for strip clubs, bars and organ parlors was this gem for a furrier. Apparently, you need to get your fur tuned up before you head out to the clubs! PS: I didn't realize silver foxes needed "resilvering." How does that work, exactly?
Just to prove that innovative advertising was alive and well in the 1940s, here's an add for The Admiral, upside down. In case you were worried, they made sure you knew that it "is not an error," they actually want to give you neck cramps and make you drop the magazine.
This magazine has ads for literally hundreds of clubs, cabarets and dancehalls, all gone. Now we have TV, the internet, and Castle. I guess that's enough for us.
I have no idea what happened to Chicago Nite Life magazine, though it looks like it kept at it until at least 1959.
If you're interested in learning more about Chicago's crazy awesome club scene - and reminding yourself that Rush Street wasn't always filled with generic restaurants that share one giant kitchen - check out this Tribune piece from the early 90s. It's a good read.