Cabaret Woes, “Evilly Disposed Persons,” and the Dancing Tenor’s Divorce


“Chicago’s cabaret industry was in the dumps to-day,” the Chicago Daily News remarked in April 1921.1 Aldermen were talking about a huge increase in license fees for public places of amusement, also known as “dry cabarets.”

At the time, you had to pay the city $25 to $100 a year to offer entertainment in places like restaurants and saloons.2 But officials were proposing new annual fees of $500 to $2,000.3 (Adjusted for inflation, that would be $8,600 to $34,000 in today’s money.) Some cabaret owners said they wouldn’t be able to afford such high fees. “City Dooms Half of Cabarets by $500-$2,000 Fee,” a Tribune headline predicted.

“Oh, well,” remarked Tom Chamales, the owner of Green Mill Gardens. “When it isn’t one thing nowadays, it’s another. I suppose we can get by, but it will make a big hole in the profits. Unquestionably, a lot of fellows will have to quit business.”4

Chicago Daily News April 9, 1921.
Charles Fitzmorris.

Meanwhile, police superintendent Charles Fitzmorris vowed that the city’s cops would vigorously enforce the cabaret law, shutting down all live entertainment at 1 a.m. “Chicago is a 1 o’clock town,” he said. “The police rule that places of amusement shall close at 1 o’clock will be enforced to the letter.”5

But whenever the clock struck 1, Chamales refused to stop the music and dancing at Green Mill Gardens. By early May 1921, he’d been cited 43 times for breaking the law, with accumulated fines of $8,600. Several complaints were also filed against Fred Mann, the manager of the nearby Rainbo Garden. Chamales and Mann questioned the law’s validity, insisting they had the right to let people dance to live music in the wee hours of the morning.6

In June, the trial of Cora Orthwein on murder charges shined a spotlight on Green Mill Gardens, as witnesses testified about drunken and rowdy late-night behavior inside the venue. On June 28—four days after Orthwein was found not guilty—the city sued Green Mill Gardens Inc., asking a judge to fine the cabaret $200 for allowing music and dancing in the early morning hours of June 9 and 10.

Illinois State Archives.

The Green Mill and the city prosecutor agreed on the basic facts about what happened: An orchestra had played inside the restaurant, while people danced on an open floor. Professional singers and dancers performed up until midnight. After that, the orchestra continued playing and people kept on dancing until 2:30 a.m.

The stipulation of facts. (For a closer view, click on the image.)

The stipulation in the court case didn’t make it clear how late the outdoor portion of Green Mill Gardens stayed open. Were people dancing to live music in the gardens as late as 2:30 a.m., or were they all inside the building by that time? The stipulation seemed to describe the indoor area, saying: “There was in the restaurant an orchestra and a platform or space kept open where dancing was permitted and was enjoyed by the patrons.” But it didn’t say anything specifically about the gardens.7 (In a separate 1922 court case, a Green Mill Gardens waiter mentioned that the outdoor garden closing at 1 a.m., when all of the patrons moved inside.8)

A July 26 ad in the Chicago Daily News seemed to suggest that the gardens were open late. The ad promoted a show called Gorham’s 1922 Follies in the Green Mill Outdoor Gardens, hyping it as “Chicago’s Biggest Summer Garden Surprise” and promising there would be “Continuous Dancing and Unexcelled Entertainment from 7 p.m. to Closing”—without specifying exactly what hour the venue closed. (The youth of the performers was considered a selling point: The ad described a “Company of 40 with 20 Beautiful Girls under 20.”)9

Chicago Daily News, July 26, 1921.

In 1921, Green Mill Gardens came under heat from the Chicago Federation of Musicians and the stagehands’ union. A jazz band was playing at the venue on June 23, when Ralph O’Hara, a business agent for the musicians’ union, walked in. He gave a signal to the horn players, and the band stopped playing, walking off the stage. Patrons started leaving, too. Tom Chamales came over and talked with O’Hara, who told him that the union musicians wouldn’t perform—because the Green Mill had a nonunion man operating the spotlight.

Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1921.

“But the union scale for that job is $55 a week. I can’t afford to pay it,” Chamales said.

“Then you can’t have any music,” O’Hara replied.

Chamales quickly gave in, agreeing to the union’s terms, and the band came back onstage, resuming the show.10

The sheet music from the court case. National Archives.

Another pesky annoyance for Green Mill Gardens and Chamales was the seemingly constant stream of litigation they faced. They were sued in March 1921 by Jerome H. Remick Co. The music publisher alleged that the nightclub’s orchestra had performed “The Japanese Sandman,” a 1920 song by Raymond B. Egan and Richard A. Whiting, without permission from the copyright holders. Chamales denied the allegation, and the lawsuit was dismissed.11

Other lawsuits claimed that Chamales and Green Mill Gardens hadn’t paid their bills. In one such case, plumber Samuel Kersten alleged that Chamales owed him $1,374.50; that lawsuit was dismissed.12 In another case, Cook County sued Green Mill Gardens for failing to pay $1,295.80 in taxes assessed on personal property in 1920; in the end, the county agreed to reduce the bill to $58.90.13

While Chamales was waiting to defend himself in court on those alleged cabaret ordinance violations, he received a building permit from the city on August 18 to construct an addition to the Green Mill Gardens building.

It’s probably no coincidence that Chamales had filed paperwork earlier in 1921 with the Cook County recorder of deeds—a proposed lease amendment from four years earlier, which would have given him permission to change the building. But the document hadn’t been notarized in 1917 and it did not show a signature from his landlords, Catherine and Charles Hoffman.14 Had they actually agreed to this deal? And did Chamales have their permission to make these changes? That’s unknown. His project filled in a 79-by-30-foot courtyard space facing Broadway between the building’s two wings. Excavation began on September 12.15

“The café will be enlarged,” the Tribune reported “… The present stage will be wrecked and a new one will be built on the north line of the building. The café seating capacity will be increased by nearly a thousand. The outdoor garden also is being altered.”

For his part, Chamales insisted that the Prohibition Era’s limits on booze weren’t hurting his business. “Of course, a lot of people bring their hip booze,” he told the Tribune, “but still we’re going more business with the nondrinkers than ever before. There’s more dancing than ever before and no sign of a letup.”16

That’s exactly what worried city officials, who were pleading with Chamales to stop all of that early-morning dancing. But on September 22, a judge in the Municipal Court of Chicago, John Richardson, found Green Mill Gardens not guilty of violating the cabaret ordinance. Richardson didn’t come right out and say the law was invalid, but he suggested that the Illinois Supreme Court should weigh in on the question. The city appealed the verdict, taking the case to the state’s highest court.17

Green Mill Gardens remained open for business while the building was under construction. A roof was already being put on the building’s addition on October 4,18 around the time when a Tribune writer visited. The female reporter went around to several Chicago cabarets—escorted by a man—to learn how much these places were charging for soft drinks and nonalcoholic cocktails. Her byline was just one name: Martha. Below the byline, a little note in italics said: “Martha, Martha, thou hast troubled thyself about many things.

Chicago Daily Tribune, October 5, 1921.

“It was a dull night at the Green Mill Gardens,” Martha reported. “… But few couples toddled and quaffed purple, scarlet, and pink drinks.” Martha’s escort ordered ginger ale, and the waiter brought a bottle containing enough for two glasses. The couple received a tab for $2.10. Asked to explain the bill, the waiter said: “Cover charge, $1. Ginger ale, $1. Tax, 10 cents. Hafta charge it. Folks only drink one or two while they’re in here.”

After studying the Green Mill Gardens menu, Martha reported that “nothing was listed under 40 cents, a few ice creams and domestic ginger ales selling at that figure.” The priciest drinks were an “aristocratic” Champagne cup for $4.50; the Green Mill cup, $3.50; and an “Appleju” cup, $3. Most of the other drinks were 50 cents each, including “cocktails, fizzes, rickeys, cordials, and humble beers.”

Martha’s next stop was Rainbo Garden, where a sign at the entrance said: “No intoxicants are served on the premises.” Another sign announced: “No gentlemen are admitted without ladies.” Martha reported that Rainbo, which was charging an admittance fee of 25 cents, was “even more deserted” than Green Mill Gardens.

A drink called “the Rainbo cooler” was 60 cents, and a limeade cost 75. Asked about the prices, a waiter said: “I didn’t fix ’em. But a fella an’ a girl’ll order, say, one or two, and dance about five dollars’ worth.”

Martha and her escort continued their tour of Chicago cabarets, stopping next at Broadway, Halsted, and Grace, where the cover charge to enter Marigold Gardens was $1.10 per person. “Half the north side seemed to be jammed into the Marigold garden, dancing, eating, drink, and watching the elaborate show,” Martha reported.

Marigold was selling “cups” of cocktails and highballs for $3.50. “Champagne types” cost as much as $4. A quart of Apollinaris water was $1.50. Ice cream sodas, 20 cents. Sundaes, 50 cents. “There’s six or seven glasses in a cup,” a waiter explained. “Pure apple juice and fruits. But they ain’t worth it. In the old days they’d drink a dozen real drinks. They drink two of these. We gotta make up the difference somehow.”

Martha and her escort also visited Ike Bloom’s and Colosimo’s, two of the South Side’s most popular night spots. “Colosimo’s … glowed and resounded as if there never had been a Mr. Volstead,” Martha wrote, alluding to Minnesota congressman Andrew Volstead, whose name was on the federal law prohibiting alcohol. “The nighthawks, jamming the room, blue with cigaret smoke, joined in vociferously when the fat little man with the brown wig yodelled infectiously ‘Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.’”

Colosimo’s charged 40 cents for most beverages, a dime less than the other cabarets Martha had visited. She asked the restaurant’s “deft garçon” for an explanation of the prices. “Aw, what’s the difference?” he said. “They don’t care what you soak ’em.”

Martha concluded: “And the laughing, singing crowd, on remarkably fine spirits after a night of ‘nonalcoholic beverages,’ didn’t seem to, at that.”19

At the time, Colosimo’s was suing the city of Chicago. A year earlier, mayor Bill Thompson had ordered police to shut down the place—reportedly as an act of political retribution. He was angry because Colosimo’s owners opposed the Republican candidate Thompson was supporting for state’s attorney, Robert Crowe. And so, the cops took the restaurant license off the wall at Colosimo’s. For a while, officers were stationed outside Colosimo’s, preventing it from doing any business. Colosimo’s owners sued.

Chicago Daily Tribune, October 5, 1921.

On October 4, 1921, an Illinois appellate court handed down its decision in the Colosimo case, shocking city officials with a ruling that made it harder to regulate Chicago restaurants. The court said the city’s ordinance requiring restaurant licenses was invalid. This ruling was later affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court. The justices concluded that Illinois laws, as they were written at that time, did not give cities any power to license restaurants. State law did allow cities to license “ordinaries,” an old term for taverns serving complete meals at fixed prices. But the courts weren’t convinced that “ordinaries” meant the same thing as “restaurants.”20

“The decision means that restaurants may run without regulation and without licenses,” said James W. Breen, the city’s first assistant corporation counsel. “It is only through the power to license and regulate that the city was able to close restaurants at 1 a.m., and with this power wiped out, the 1 o’clock closing ordinance fails.”

The court ruling did not affect Chicago’s cabaret law, which still required entertainment to stop at 1 a.m.21 But a day after the judges’ decision, cabarets were hopping in the early morning hours. “Chicago is no longer a one o’clock town,” the DeKalb Daily Chronicle reported on October 5. “The lid was ripped off Chicago’s night life when the appellate court handed down a ruling stating the city authorities had no right to closing cabarets at 1:00 a.m. Gay parties at Colisimo’s, Green Mill gardens and other places did not break up until breakfast time today for the first time in years.”22

DeKalb Daily Chronicle, October 5, 1921.

A month later, in November 1921, another Tribune reporter visited Green Mill Gardens, Rainbo Garden, and Marigold Gardens—trying to find out if alcohol could be purchased at these places. By this time, it was clear that the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act weren’t stopping Americans from drinking.

The prices for beer, wine, whiskey, gin, and other alcohols had gone up 100 to 500 percent since they’d been outlawed, while their quality had gone down, the Tribune reported. But it wasn’t hard for Chicagoans to get their hands on a drink. “There are still between 1,000 and 1,500 saloons doing business,” the Tribune reported. “… And the 1 o’clock closing law is now a dead letter. One may walk into many a Chicago saloon now at any hour of the morning and find things going full blast. The only limitation is the question of when the patrons go to bed.”

Chicago Daily Tribune, November 11, 1921.

However, booze was not flowing freely at Green Mill Gardens and similar venues. “The big popular gardens, such as the Green Mill, the Marigold, and the Rainbo, are not dispensers of liquor in the sense that the saloons have become,” the reporter wrote. “The gardens are more discreet; in the main patrons carry their own drinkables with them and the water, lemon, ice, etc., are furnished by the thirsty parties by the waiters.”

The reporter entered Green Mill Gardens at 9:30 p.m. “During the hour that followed all was quiet and orderly; a genial sort of dignity prevailed,” he reported. “Of course, the dancing was a bit jazzy, but there was no special spirit of revelry in the air.”

The reporter asked a waiter for “a couple of highballs.”

“Highballs?” the waiter said, raising his eyes.

“Yes, highballs—or something with a kick in it.”

“Well, now, I’m very sorry, sir, but we don’t sell it. I can bring you some water or ginger ale. … You see they all bring it with them in here, sir.”

Leaning closer to the waiter, the reporter said he understood that some of the Green Mill’s waiters might accommodate an order for alcohol.

“O, no,” the waiter replied. “Some of the extra fellows on Saturday night may be—be doing something like that, but we regular waiters—no. We would be fired at once, and we won’t take a chance. But there are some doctors around the corners here you might … fix you up … why don’t you try?”

The reporter visited several neighborhood doctors, seeking a prescription for booze. “They smiled sympathetically,” he reported. “They were sorry. But they were all out of prescriptions. Too bad.”

After visiting the Rainbo and the Marigold, the reporter concluded that many patrons were bringing their own alcohol into these venues. “Earlier in the evening the flasks were kept somewhat under cover,” he wrote. “Sometimes the pouring was done under the table; sometimes the flask was wrapped in a napkin for pouring purposes; always some attempt was made to do the pouring a bit furtively—not too openly.

“But as the evening advanced, spirits mounted. The celebrants grew impatient of under-table methods—proud of their possessions—and set the bottles boldly upon the board. And once upon the board, a bottle never again went into seclusion. It remained on top until it was nothing but a bottle and the waiter was dispatched with it on a mournful errand to the kitchen.”23

Of all the bands that ever played at the Green Mill, there was one that made records using the venue’s name. In March 1922, Lloyd Barber’s Green Mill Orchestra traveled to Richmond, Indiana, to record music for the Gennett record label.24 One of its 78 rpm records featured a pair of songs with American Indian motifs: “Tee Pee Blues” and “Wigwam Blues.”

Although Lloyd Barber’s Green Mill Orchestra released four records in 1922,25 the group didn’t seem to make much of a splash in Chicago. The Tribune and Variety never mentioned the orchestra. And the group’s name appeared in the Daily News just one time, when the Starr Piano Company, which owned the Gennett label, hosted a record-release party in April 1922 at its store, located in the Loop’s Music Row at 423 South Wabash Avenue.26

But Lloyd Barber’s Green Mill Orchestra did make front-page news in one newspaper: the North Mississippi Herald in Water Valley, a small town in northern Mississippi. It just so happened that the weekly newspaper’s editor, a white Iowa native named Louis Barber, was the father of the trombonist27 leading the band at Chicago’s Green Mill, 25-year-old Lloyd Barber.28 Readers in that Mississippi town read all about the accomplishments of the editor’s son in “the great city of Chicago” way up north.

“During the few years he has lived in Chicago he has climbed to the top round of fame and today he is one of the best known and most admired musicians in the great City,” the Herald reported. “… He had been featured as a ‘soloist’ by practically every big theatre and amusement center in Chicago for the past two years and his wonderful performances made him famous in the musical world.”

For Mississippians unfamiliar with the Green Mill, the trombonist’s father offered this description: “The ‘Green Mill’ is one of the finest and most fashionable entertainment gardens in Chicago. It is the ‘swellest’ garden in the City and the prime favorite of the wealthy and every thing is gorgeous and extravagant. The wealthy and elite of the City demand the best irregardless of cost—they get it at the Green Mill, and the Green Mill is famous on that account. The music must be the best possible to attain to satisfy the wealthy and extravagant clientele. It is considered the best paying position in Chicago—the music must satisfy—price is no object. As a consequence the leading and most noted musical directors in Chicago seek the place—And the musical director is selected on ability, strictly. Lloyd has signed up contracts with the Green Mill for the coming year, and has selected the best musicians possible to get for his orchestra.”29

During its seemingly brief existence, Lloyd Barber’s Green Mill Orchestra also recorded the songs “Canadian Capers,” “Love Days,” “Honeymoon Blues,” and “Pick Me Up and Lay Me Down in Dear Old Dixieland” for Gennett. Another recording, “Pick Me Up and Lay Me Down (In Dear Old Dixie Land),” was released by the Cardinal label, also in 1922.30 And then Lloyd Barber’s Green Mill Orchestra apparently ended. Barber continued working as a Chicago musician for at least another eight years, but by 1940, he’d moved to Hemet, California, where he made his living as a farmer.31

Lloyd Barber’s Green Mill Orchestra faded into obscurity, known only to record collectors. At least two other bands with similar names existed, but they were named after different Green Mills: The Famous Green Mill Orchestra performed at a venue called the Green Mill at Washington and National Boulevards in Culver City, California, in 1924.32 And Joe Watson & His Green Mill Orchestra performed at Green Mill Dance Palais, which opened in Melbourne, Australia, in 1926.33 It’s possible that both of these venues borrowed their names from the original Green Mill Gardens in Chicago.

Chicago Daily Tribune, February 7, 1922.

A marriage between two Green Mill Gardens regulars made headlines in 1922, after it fell apart in acrimony. Known as “the Dancing Tenor,” the sweet-voiced Harry Vernon performed often at Green Mill Gardens. But after he divorced his wife, Marguerite (or Margaret), he found it increasingly difficult to put on his show without getting distracted by her.

“You should have seen the gay parties she put on with other men at the Gardens just to annoy me,” Vernon told a Cook County judge in February 1922. “She was always razzing me, right in the midst of my best work. One night, by special request, I was singing ‘Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes,’ a classy little thing and very sentimental. The most effective line in it is, ‘I never had a baby to call me Dada.’

“Well, my wife was there. I didn’t know it. She was at a table with a Mr. Perry. Both were liquored up. She waited till I got to that phrase, till I was on the note holding ‘Dada.’ The place was so still you could have heard a pin drop. She stood up on her chair and hollered: ‘O yes, you have, you big bum!’ It ruined my act. They canned me.

“A previous time she was at a nearby table. I was in conversation with some of our best patrons. We were discussing long telephone bills. I said, ‘I had a big gas bill myself the other day. …’ Mrs. Vernon—she was all liquored up again—got up and yelled: ‘Yes, you big stiff, you can pay gas bills, but you can’t pay alimony!’”

Vernon was testifying because he wanted the court to reduce the weekly alimony that he owed Marguerite from $37.50 to $15. He was also seeking custody of their 18-month-old son.34

The Dancing Tenor’s real name was Harry Vernon Finkelstein; his wife’s real name was Barbara Gray (or Grey). The two performers had gotten married on April 7, 1920, when he was 26 and she was 19.35 Seven months later, on October 15, she gave birth to their son, Richard.36

The Dancing Tenor’s mother-in-law, Mabel Gray, said he wasn’t much of a father. “He could carry a heavy bag of golf sticks and follow one of those silly little balls all day, but he would never carry the baby,” she testified. “If there was any walking the floor at night to be done, I or his wife had to do it. He would always say, ‘I’m too tired.’

“Last Fourth of July was my daughter’s birthday and we were planning a birthday party. We had invited a lot of friends for dinner. Harry didn’t get in till 10 o’clock the next morning. He was drunk and almost wrecked the apartment. Then he went to bed with his clothes on. My daughter tried to undress him and he threw her into the kitchen and almost broke a table.”37

Marguerite gave similar testimony about her husband’s behavior. “He never came home until daylight,” she said. “He was never sober. Mean. Mean. He never gave me any clothes. He never caressed the baby.”

Her testimony also offered a glimpse of what Harry’s performances at Green Mill Gardens were like. “Know how he got the drinks?” she said. “I shall tell you. He goes from table to table as he sings. He raises his eye and glances at the gin-filled glass before the customer. If there is a girl at the table, the ruse never fails. That’s how he got the drinks.” 38

On one occasion, Marguerite unexpectedly returned from an out-of-town trip, arriving back home with her mother and infant son. They found Harry in the bedroom with another woman.

“We entered Mr. and Mrs. Vernon’s bedroom. And there was the blonde,” Mabel Gray testified. “She jumped up and was so excited she forgot where she had put her clothes. Harry said to me: ‘Mama, mama, let me explain.’ ‘Harry,’ I said, ‘there’s nothing to explain.’ All the time the blonde was running around trying to find her clothes. Finally, she found them in the bathroom. I said to Harry, ‘Get that woman out of the house, and you get out after her.’ They both got. I never saw a woman dress so fast.”39

Not long after that, Harry and Marguerite got divorced.40 Months later, Harry went to court in February 1922, pleading with a judge to let him keep more of his money. “I’m the best-dressed man in town,” he explained, “and it costs so much to keep sartorially perfect.”41

The Tribune reported on the court proceedings with a mocking tone, noting: “Art, as the ginger ale sippers at Green Mill Gardens know, is everything to Harry Vernon, the dancing tenor.” The newspaper called Vernon “a gorgeous forget-me-not.” 42

“Your honor, if you don’t reduce the amount of the alimony I must pay to my wife, I won’t be able to afford the things so essential to a first-class actor like myself,” Vernon said, “and my barber, my manicurist, my tailor, my French laundress, my perfumer and my haberdasher will suffer.

“I am one of the leading cabaret entertainers in Chicago, and as such I must keep up the high standard of appearance which I have set for myself. My barber and manicure bill is $1 a day; I pay $5 a week to my tailor for keeping my clothes pressed up; my French laundress costs me $5 each week. All these things are absolutely necessary to my position, and if I must continue to pay more than $15 a week alimony, I must do without these essentials.”43

Later, he added: “And I forgot—I always have to spend $3.75 a week for a cab on pay night. I have no desire to meet robbers.”44 Vernon also testified that his ex-wife was “entirely devoid of any understanding of her actor-husband’s artistry in his chosen profession,” the New York Clipper reported.45

Duke Rogers, an actor and entertainer who was a pal of Vernon’s, testified about one of Marguerite’s disruptive visits to Green Mill Gardens. An attorney asked him: “What was her condition as to sobriety when she came in?”

“She was slightly liquored.”

“And later?”

“Well, when she left at 3 a.m. she was very drunk.”

“Now then as to her dancing, did you see her?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Was she dancing the ‘shimmy’?”

“It was the shimmy, but again, it was more than the shimmy.”

“And what is the difference?”

“Well, in the ordinary shimmy you shake your shoulders; in this case she shook everything except her feet.” The courtroom laughed at this testimony.

Chicago Evening American, February 7, 1922.

An article in the Chicago Evening American summarized the sometimes-contradictory testimony of various witnesses in the case:

There were more witnesses. Yes, they had seen Mrs. Vernon at the Green Mill and had heard her “bawl her husband out.”

Yes, she had invited some strange girls out on parties.

No, they don’t serve liquor at the Green Mill.

Yes, she had an argument in the Green Mill with her husband and they had to call the police.

No, she never went out, but stayed home every night (this from her witnesses).

Yes, she was a good and loving mother and he was not all a husband should be, swearing around the house and acting coarse and vulgar.

Yes, Mr. Vernon is one of the best cabaret entertainers in the city.

No, Mrs. Vernon does not drink.

And so forth.46

Dolores Gray. Wikimedia.

Judge Joseph Sabath took Harry and Marguerite into his chambers and urged them to reconcile, but they refused. Back in the courtroom, he delivered his decision: “The alimony will be cut from $37.50 to $30 because Mr. Vernon has no job at present. The mother has custody of the child. She shall not visit the cafés where her husband is working. He shall not bother her. That is all.”47

Several weeks later, Harry and Marguerite returned to the court—and announced that they’d just gotten remarried.48 They soon moved to Los Angeles, where they had a daughter, but the couple divorced again. Their daughter, Dolores Gray, grew up to be a Tony-nominated actress.49

On March 13, 1922, construction was completed on the addition to the Green Mill building. It was now a rectangular structure, with storefronts facing Broadway and Lawrence. The entrance for the Green Mill Gardens venue was at 4806 North Broadway (where the Fiesta Mexicana is today), leading back to a two-story cabaret space in the building’s northwest corner. The outdoor gardens were still over on the building’s west side.50 The building’s new design gave Chamales the opportunity to make money by renting out the storefronts along Broadway and Lawrence as well as offices on the second floor.

Two months after the Green Mill Gardens renovations were complete, one of the venue’s biggest local competitors, Rainbo Garden at Clark Street and Lawrence Avenue, received a building permit for its own $150,000 renovation and expansion project.51 Owner Fred Mann organized a new corporation, the Rainbo Garden Co., with authorized capital stock of $300,000.52

Rainbo Gardens, circa 1927. A113906. Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, Newberry Library.

“In 1922 Mann built one of the largest show rooms in the country on the site, Mann’s Million-Dollar Rainbo Room,” Charles A. Sengstock wrote in That Toddlin’ Town. “It was a sight to behold, equipped with the latest theatrical staging equipment including a revolving combined dance floor and show stage that could present acts both in the Rainbo Room and lo the outdoor garden behind the building. The Rainbo Room was part of a new building erected along Clark Street on a portion of the old outdoor gardens, replacing an older structure. … For the opening of the new, dazzling, gold, blue, and ivory Rainbo Room in October 1922, … Frank Westphals orchestra was hired to play for dancing and the floor show. … The skillfully produced shows were presented in a room that could seat 2,000.”53

In the case at the Illinois Supreme Court, city prosecutor Louis Piquett did not formally accuse Green Mill Gardens of serving alcohol. In fact, the city’s lawyers had agreed to a stipulation saying that Green Mill Gardens served only meals and soft drinks.54

But the city’s lawyers told the Illinois Supreme Court that “it is a well-known fact in this community” that Green Mill Gardens sold intoxicating liquors and allowed people to drink inside the venue. The city vaguely asserted that this was true “not only in the establishment of the defendant,” suggesting that this practice was commonplace in many Chicago restaurants. But at the same time, the city lawyers admitted they had no actual evidence of alcohol at Green Mill Gardens: “there is nothing in the evidence in this case to show that the defendant sold and permitted drinking of intoxicating liquors on the premises in question.”

The lawyers for Green Mill Gardens, Roy D. Keehn and Edward G. Woods, denied the accusation. “What may be done in other restaurants we do not know, but so far as the appellee [Green Mill Gardens] is concerned, it neither sells intoxicants nor permits the drinking of them within its restaurant,” they wrote.55

Keehn and Woods argued that Chicago’s cabaret ordinance didn’t apply to Green Mill Gardens. As they pointed out, the city law defined a public place of amusement as a venue where “the general public may be admitted without the payment of an admission fee or charge of any kind or character.” That wasn’t true at Green Mill Gardens, which did charge an admission fee.

The lawyers also argued that state law didn’t give Chicago the power to enforce an ordinance regulating cabarets.56

Even if the law was valid—and even if it did apply to Green Mill Gardens—the lawyers insisted that the venue wasn’t breaking the law. They said the law defined “amusements” as “theatricals and other exhibitions, shows.” According to the lawyers, the only “theatricals” at Green Mill Gardens ended at midnight, when the professional dancers and singers stopped performing. They argued that the orchestra music and dancing, which lasted until 2:30 a.m., didn’t qualify as an “amusement,” as defined by the city ordinance.

The Green Mill Gardens lawyers said it was unreasonable for the city to force restaurants to shut down at 1 a.m. just because they’d hosted entertainment earlier in the night. “We admit … that many people find eating an amusing pastime,” Keehn and Woods wrote. “Is every restaurant, therefore, a place of amusement? If so, it would be impossible for a wayfarer to obtain food in the big City of Chicago after 1 a.m. notwithstanding his necessities.”

Meanwhile, the city’s lawyers warned about the consequences of allowing cabarets to stay open after 1 a.m. They said that “resorts might spring up which would cater to thieves, thugs, crooks, highwaymen, etc.” They also asserted that early-morning music and dancing disturbed the neighborhood’s peace and quiet, making it hard for people to sleep. But the lawyers for Green Mill Gardens said the music wasn’t audible outside of the building.57

Illinois Supreme Court justice Warren W. Duncan. Wikimedia.

The Illinois Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in City of Chicago v. Green Mill Gardens on April 19, 1922. Warren W. Duncan, a justice from downstate Marion,58 wrote the opinion, rejecting all of Green Mill Gardens’ arguments.

The fact that Green Mill Gardens charged an admission fee? Irrelevant, Duncan said.

Did state law empower cities like to Chicago to regulate places of amusement? Yes, it did, Duncan said.

And Duncan said Green Mill Gardens broke the law when it allowed people to dance to an orchestra’s music after 1 a.m. “And it cannot escape from that charge because it sold soft drinks and conducted a restaurant also,” he said.

Duncan and his fellow justices seemed to think it was obvious that early-morning music and dancing at Green Mill Gardens would disturb the neighborhood, even if city officials never presented any evidence to prove that was true.

“We may take judicial notice of the fact that the city of Chicago is a densely populated city, and that restaurants and places of the kind that appellee conducts are not in isolated portions of the city, where residents and other persons might not be disturbed and annoyed by music and dancing at as late an hour as 2:30 A.M.” Duncan wrote. “We may assume, also, that the fact that other people would be disturbed and annoyed and deprived of necessary sleep and rest entered into consideration in the passage of this ordinance.”

But that wasn’t the only reason why the justices believed it was wise for Chicago to prohibit early-morning entertainment. They also worried that late-night dancing would attract the sort of people who were likely to do evil deeds.

“Continued dancing till such a late hour would in itself tend to endanger the health of the patrons engaging therein,” Duncan said, “and such public places conducted at such late hours would tend to attract and congregate evilly-disposed persons at hours when the city would be least prepared with police to guard against the acts of such persons.”

Duncan finished by saying that Chicago’s law regulating public places of amusement was “valid and binding.” Green Mill Gardens was “guilty as charged.” He concluded: “The judgment of the municipal court is reversed and the cause is remanded.”59

By the time of this ruling, the Chicago City Council had already voted to clarify the ordinance’s confusing language about cabaret admission fees. As amended on August 3, 1921, the law now defined public places of amusement as entertainment venues where “the general public may be admitted either with or without the payment of a charge or admission fee.” 60

The aldermen had also voted on December 28 to raise cabaret license fees. The fees didn’t end up being quite as high as feared. They ranged from $250 up to $1,000. Green Mill Gardens was probably hit with the highest rate, which applied to venues with seating capacities of 1,000 or more and floor space exceeding 7,500 square feet.61

The number of cabaret licenses issued by the city had already taken a steep drop in 1921. Anticipating big fee increases, cabaret owners apparently decided to get out of the business. Chicago had 83 licensed cabarets in 1920, but that number fell to 16 in 1921. After that, the number climbed back up, rebounding to 46 in 1922. But for the rest of the decade, it remained below the high point of 1918–20.62

Now that Chicago officials had the Illinois Supreme Court’s stamp of approval, did they vigorously enforce the law prohibiting live entertainment after 1 a.m.? And did Green Mill Gardens finally start abiding by that law? That’s hard to say. Like many similar laws in Chicago, this one seemed to be enforced at certain times and ignored at others.



1 “Cabarets Peeved? Oh, No!” Chicago Daily News, April 9, 1921, 1.

2 Journal of the Proceedings of the City Council of the City of Chicago, vol. 86, August 14, 1918, 960-963.

3 Walter C. Reckless, Vice in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933), 111–112; Journal of the Proceedings of the City Council of the City of Chicago, vol. 91, April 8, 1921, 2249,; 2253-2254,

4 “Cabarets Peeved? Oh, No!”

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6 “Moves to Test Cabaret Ban,” Chicago Daily News, May 4, 1921, 1; “To Test Closing Law,” New York Clipper, May 11, 1921, 23.——-en-20–61-byDA-img-txIN-%22green+mill+gardens%22———.

7 City of Chicago v. Green Mill Gardens, 305 Ill. 87 (1922),

8 Robert E. Kneiss affidavit, July 12, 1922, filed July 18, 1922, 2, Equity 2842, U.S. v. Green Mill Gardens et al, U.S. District Court for the Eastern (Chicago) Division of the Northern District of Illinois, National Archives at Chicago.

9 Advertisement, Chicago Daily News, July 26, 1921, 20.

10 “Nonunion Light Burns Out Jazz at Green Mill,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1921, 1.

11 Bill, filed March 5, 1921; Answer, filed March 23, 1921, Equity 2011, Jerome H. Remick Co. v. Green Mill Gardens, U.S. v. Green Mill Gardens, U.S. District Court for the Eastern (Chicago) Division of the Northern District of Illinois, National Archives at Chicago.

12 Samuel Kersten v Tom Chamales et al, Circuit Court Case B86710C, 1922, Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court Archives.

13 People of the State of Illinois v. Green Mill Gardens, Circuit Court Case B78024, 1921, Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court Archives.

14 Document 7048590, Book 16543, 510-514, proposed agreement between Catherine and Charles Hoffman and Tom Chamales, February 1, 1917, recorded January 28, 1921, Cook County Clerk’s Office Recordings Division, 510-514.

15 Permit 61297, file 95994, Aug. 18, 1921, Chicago Building Permit Ledgers Reel UID CBPC_LB_20 173 (original p. 325).

16 Al Chase, “World’s Famous Midway Gardens to Be Reopened,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 4, 1921, part 8, 22.

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18 Permit 61297.

19 Martha, “Add Ghosts of Booze to Price of Soft Drinks,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 5, 1921, 19.

20 “Hold Cafe Fee Act Void,” Chicago Daily News, October 4, 1921, 1; Samuel Pashley Irwin, Reports of Cases at Law and in Chancery Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Illinois vol. 304 (Bloomington, IL: Pantagraph Printing and Stationery, 1923), 222–228.

21 “Court O.K. for ‘Night Life,’” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 5, 1921, 1.

22 “Cabarets Are Again Open for Entire Nights,” DeKalb Daily Chronicle, October 5, 1921, 3.——-en-20–61-byDA-img-txIN-%22green+mill+gardens%22———

23 “City’s Saloons Prosper Despite Prohibition Law,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 11, 1921, 21.

24 Charlie Dahan, “March 14 in Gennett History,” Gennett Records Discography, March 13, 2023,

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32 Advertisement, Variety, February 21, 1924, 29,

33 “Joe Watson & His Green Mill Orchestra,” Discogs, accessed December 16, 2023,; AusRadioHistorian, “Melbourne, 1929: Joe Watson’s Green Mill Orchestra,” YouTube,; Australian Performing Arts Collection, “A Place Across the River: The Home of Entertainment in Melbourne For Over 100 Years,” September 13, 2016,; Advertisement, (Victoria, Australia) The Age, September 8, 1926, 20.

34 “She Ruined the Effect of His Classical Song,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 7, 1922, 17.

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39 “Dancing Tenor’s Mother-in-Law Sings a Verse,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 8, 1922, 17.

40 “She Ruined the Effect of His Classical Song.”

41 “Fights for Custody of Son,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 7, 1922, 30.

42 “She Ruined the Effect of His Classical Song.”

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44 “She Ruined the Effect of His Classical Song.”

45 “Says Wife Ruined Act.”

46 “Shook Wicked ‘Shimmy,’ Is Testimony,” Chicago American, February 7, 1922.

47 “’Twas Sad Scene, but Court Saves Coat for Dancer,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 9, 1922, 17.

48 “Cabaret Singer Remarries,” New York Clipper, March 29, 1922, 7.——-en-20–61-byDA-img-txIN-%22green+mill+gardens%22———.

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53 Charles A. Sengstock, That Toddlin’ Town: Chicago’s White Dance Bands and Orchestras, 1900–1950 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2004), 132–133.

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55 Roy D. Keehn and Edward G. Woods, brief and argument for appellee, filed Jan. 19, 1922, City of Chicago v. Green Mill Gardens, Illinois Supreme Court files, Illinois State Archives, 13.

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57 Keehn and Woods, brief and argument, 10–13.

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61 Journal of the Proceedings of the City Council of the City of Chicago, vol. 93, December 28, 1921, 1549-1550.

62 Reckless, Vice in Chicago, 111–113.