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Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Northalsted

Southport Lanes Closed For Good After Nearly 100 Years, Will Auction Off Its Famed Sign

Southport Lanes has long been a part of Chicago lore given its history as a classic tavern that turned into a speakeasy and brothel during Prohibition. It added bowling lanes in 1922.

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LAKEVIEW — Southport Lanes, the historic restaurant and bowling alley in Lakeview, will not reopen after all since its owners decided the business had no viable path to recovering from the pandemic.

Southport Lanes, located at 3325 N. Southport Ave., has been closed since September. Its owners announced Wednesday they’re auctioning off everything inside and outside the building, including its famous sign.

Owner Steve Soble declined to comment, referring all questions to spokesperson Lacey Irby.

“Unfortunately, ownership does not see this business recovering anytime soon, and therefore Southport Lanes is permanently closed,” Irby said.

Everything inside the business, including its pool tables, bowling equipment, signs and other memorabilia, will be auctioned off online July 13–20, according to a posting from the Glenview-based Winternitz Industrial Auctioneers & Appraisers.

“This was obviously a very tough decision, but after giving it a lot of thought, the building ownership has decided to go this route of auctioning off the assets for Southport Lanes,” Irby said.

Soble announced in September the 99-year-old bar likely would close for good. Neighbors devastated by the news crowded at Southport Lanes on its last night to pay tribute to the bar’s history in Chicago.

Then Soble unexpectedly announced in January there was a fighting chance at reopening after they received a $70,000 Business Interruption Grant. But the funding was not enough to fully resume operations.

Credit: Justin Laurence/Block Club Chicago

Southport Lanes has long been a part of Chicago lore given its history as a classic tavern that turned into a speakeasy and brothel during Prohibition.

The bar was built by Schlitz Brewery around 1900 and named The Nook. But in 1922, federal laws banned brewers from owning taverns, so its name was changed to Southport Lanes and four hand-set bowling lanes were added.

The tavern became a speakeasy with an upstairs brothel during the 1920s, according to Southport Lanes’ website. The building still has a dumbwaiter that was used to bring refreshments to the women and their clients.

When Prohibition ended, a building was built to the east of the bar room, which Southport Lanes used as the billiards room. This building originally housed an illegal gambling facility, then it became a beer hall for rent and a local polling place in the 1950s.

Soble said they didn’t know about Southport Lanes’ off-track betting parlor until they pulled the phone wires sometime after he bought the bar and grill from its former owner, Leo Beitz.

“He also told me there was a secret room where, legend has it, Mayor Anton Cermak would hold a weekly poker game,” Soble previously said.

Since Soble bought the place in 1991, Southport Lanes has also hosted memorable guests, like the entire Cubs team for a surprise party for Ryan Dempster in 2004 and actor Al Pacino while he was in town filming the 1992 drama “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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