After 136 years in, Chicago’s oldest bar, Schaller’s Pump in Bridgeport, closed on Sunday. The family-owned bar near Sox Park—a favorite of baseball fans, politicians, and locals—was a South Side institution. It’s longtime owner, Jack Schaller, died last year and his loss contributed to the closure. Schaller’s is a member of Eater Chicago’s essential bars.
Schaller’s carried the city’s sixth liquor license, earning that designation in 1881. While Schaller’s daughter, Kim Shinnick, declined to provide details to the Sun-Times (which broke the story on Saturday) about why the bar was closing, the newspaper reported that it was due to mounting taxes. Jack Schaller’s death brought an end to the bar’s property-tax exemptions. The senior citizen exemptions saved Schaller a total of $25,000 in property taxes over the last four years,
The bar and restaurant, which at one point neighbored a brewery that pumped beer into the tavern, survived prohibition. The bar also hosted numerous political rallies, aligned with the city’s democratic machine and former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Schaller’s also witnessed all three (1906, 1917, 2005) White Sox World Series championships. Chicago City Wire provides a nice history of the bar.
The Tribune talked with a couple bar patrons, and one chatted about its place as a South Side Irish icon. A second location of the bar was slated for Midway Airport, and it’s unclear how the closure would affect those plans.
George Schaller, Jack Schaller’s grandfather, founded the bar 136 years ago when it was simply known as The Pump. Jack Schaller took over the bar in the 1960s from his father, also named George. Jack Schaller’s brother, also named George was a former Cook County judge. This youngest George Schaller also had a son named, George Schaller Jr., for those wanting to avoid confusion.
The bar provided a quintessential example of a traditional South Side watering hole, known more as a neighborhood meeting spot versus a place with flashy design or with complicated cocktails. Some described Schaller’s as the South Side sibling to the Old Town Ale House, a place filled with chatter from characters coming from all walks of life. These bars, like Shinnick’s Pub, carry the last vestiges of a drinking culture that is seemingly fading. It’s also bad news for White Sox fans, as the neighborhood around the ballpark doesn’t have too many places for a pregame or postgame beverage.
Feel free to leave any stories or memories about Schaller’s Pump in the comments.