When Children’s Memorial Hospital moved from Lincoln Park, it took 4,000 workers, potential customers, away from the Bourgeois Pig, the cafe across the street. The pandemic followed, dealing another blow to the business that turned 30 years old earlier this year.
But with the challenges, owner Mason Green found positives. On a down-on-your-luck day that saw his car booted by parking enforcement, a Pig regular — a pediatric surgeon from across the street — offered to loan him his Mercedes.
“Who does that?” Green says.
Dr. Alex Dzakovic eventually signed on as an investor, and thanks to his boost, the partners have recently debuted a new bar, The Gatsby. Though Children’s Memorial’s departure removed a strong customer base from the area, there was a silver lining. Green was now free to pursue a liquor license. Chicago bars applicants within 100 feet of a hospital, school, or church.
With that hurdle clear, Green, in earnest, began plans to convert his second-floor apartment to a speakeasy-style bar. The Bourgeois Pig is a cafe with sandwiches named after classic American literature and was a haven for late-night study groups for students at nearby DePaul University. But Green saw a chance to evolve with the area, to create a bar without TVs — not everyone needs Big Ten football highlights. Lincoln Avenue, once home to bars like the Big Nasty and John Barleycorn, was maturing. Right up the street, Galit had opened and earned a Michelin star. Parson’s Chicken & Fish opened a nearby location in 2018.
Earlier this month Green introduced the Gatsby. Green likens the aesthetic to an “old gentleman study” with boar heads and vintage books. It’s like a slice of the mansion from The Great Gatsby.
“We don’t have any TVs by the way,” Green says. “We’re just a straight conversational place, you know, good jazz music and big band.”
Customers receive a card with a password and instructions from the first-floor host and climb the rickety stairs until they get to a 200-pound steel door with a peephole. The owner of the Red Lion Pub, Colin Cordwell, gifted the door to Green. A history buff, Cordwell salvaged the door after crews razed a neighboring building that’s been converted to condos on Lincoln Avenue. It was from a basement speakeasy. The speakeasy is conveniently located across the street from the Biograph Theater. That’s where gangster John Dillinger was with the infamous Woman in Red before a federal agent gunned him down in an alley outside.
Green is savvy when it comes to procuring antiques and vintage books. He’s a veteran of the auction circuit, and that helped fill the speakeasy’s room. He designed the space himself, including the swinging bookshelf that leads to the steel door. A red light will activate on the inside when a customer seeks entry.
Inside, bartenders Connor Barnett and Elena Nunez, who have worked for places like Bazaar Meat and Milk Room, have prepared six cocktails. The coffee bar remains in operation, but at night, it’s kind of a landing pad for customers waiting to be seated at the upstairs bar. There is wine and cheese.
Walk through the space below.