The Green Mill is Chicago’s oldest jazz club – possibly the oldest jazz club in the world. It also happened to be my neighborhood bar for the ten years that I lived in Uptown, just three blocks away.
Walking through the door is like stepping into Chicago’s storied past. There have been so many changes to the building and bar over the years, but it still retains the look and atmosphere of a 40’s nightclub. The bar itself is long and L-shaped, taking up half the length of the room. On a busy night, it comfortably accommodates several bartenders. My preferred time of day for a visit to the Mill was late afternoon, however, when there was just a single bartender there on the day shift. This club, so plush and elegant at night, is just a comfortable neighborhood bar in the afternoon. Regulars on barstools, Mike behind the bar, Jeopardy on the flickering TV over the door. I’d claim a barstool in the corner, with the cash register and bar phone in front of me, the front window behind me. Gin and tonic or a Manhattan. If it was really hot out, Mike’s own specialty that he called a Lemon Radiator. I’d read or write letters for a couple of hours after work until the evening crowd started to sift in, and then I’d go home. Or I’d stay and listen to the piano player doing swing tunes until the first show.
I went to a lot of fancy evenings out at the Mill, as well, and had my farewell party there just before I moved to Portland. But afternoons in the corner with a book and a cocktail were my favorite. It’s rare to find a place where you can either shine or disappear with equal comfort, depending on your mood. To find such a place that is also vibrant with history and artistry is unique. There are other wonderful bars and coffee shops, plenty of places I like to spend a few hours with friends or by myself. I’ll have other locals. But the Green Mill was once in a lifetime, and I won’t find it again. I’m glad I had it.
(This is Day 10 of the Blaugust initiative. You can read all about it here.)