Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Palm Gardens

North Avenue, Chicago (1964)
Palm Gardens

Location: North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Opened/Closed: Late 50s/early 60s, and probably open long before that

The Palm Gardens seems to be one of those bars that came to be a lesbian gathering space more or less by happenstance.

The only reference I have found to the Palm Gardens being a dyke hangout is a 1999 article in the Windy City Times. In this article, Sukie de la Croix interviewed a woman who was then 64 years of age regarding her memories of various Chicago lesbian bars in the 1950s. This is what she said about the Palm Gardens:

"In the middle of that bar ... a straight German guy who owned that bar ... in the middle of it, on the inside of the bar was an organ, and he used to play that organ all the time, and he must have had a lost love, really, because he used to sing the song, ... he couldn´t sing ... but this song held so much emotion in it, and it was called "I Laughed At Love." I´ll never forget that as long as I live. It was a real bright bar, it wasn´t dark like bars are, it was very bright, like German bars are bright. You went in there to drink and all these big bulldykes were in there. Again I was afraid, but I met a lot of the people in there and I met this guy who was very gentle, very, very nice. And whatever went on, he didn´t care. It´s not that he didn´t care, he let it go. It was one of the best bars I´ve been in. Looking back on it, I didn´t know it then. That guy really threw his whole heart in there. Everybody that went in there was like his kid, it was just wonderful. But I was young and to me it was a very rough bar. I can´t go rough."

The unnamed woman claims that this establishment was on North Avenue, but I'm having trouble finding independent verification of that--even though there is generally a fair amount of information on various Chicago eating and drinking establishments, even those of a certain vintage.

One POSSIBLE reference to this place MIGHT have been from 1911, in a report on Chicago area prostitution:

Bete solicited in front of palm garden on North avenue; said her father worked for street department, and don't give her any money or clothes. She goes with fellows for fifty cents; knows of no place to go except up the track near Division street. She said she was 17 years old. Speaks poor English. Has been in country five years.

Though lesbians and prostitutes have been linked historically, this still seems something of a long shot. (I can't help but wonder whatever happened to Bete though....)

However, we do find many other places in Chicago with similar names that were not on North Avenue.

The Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden (1896-1903), State and Harrison Streets: This place was obviously out of business long before our unnamed lesbian came on the scene. This particular stablishment was owned and operated was managed by one Mickey Finn, of "Mickey Finn" fame. Yes, he was the one who was infamous for slipping drugs into the drinks of his patrons, robbing them, and then dumping them in alleyways to sleep it off.

Palm Gardens, Oakwood Boulevard: This was around in the early 1950s.

Gerri's Palm Tavern (1941)

Palm Garden, 97th and Cicero: This was operated by Lydia Valencik and her husband, also in the 1950s.

Madison Palm Garden matchbook
Gerri's Palm Tavern, 446 East 47th Street (1931-2006): This historic watering hole was located in the Bronzeville area, and was closely associated with Chicago's Black Renaissance and jazz.

And finally, Madison's Palm Garden, 60 West Madison Street.

No doubt, I missed a few other variations as well.  

Photo: North Avenue in Chicago, 1964; Gerri's Palm Tavern; Madison Palm Garden matchbook

1 comment:

  1. I found this blog trying to look up a bar that was near where I once lived just west of Austin Ave. on North side of North Ave. I remember it because it had an organ in the middle of the bar. I mentioned it to my mother at the time and she told me a family freind used to sing and play the organ there in the 40's or 50's. Maybe it was the same place.


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