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A Lincoln Park Coffee House Reveals a Hidden Speakeasy Near Dillinger’s Demise

The Gatsby, the Bourgeois Pig’s covert second-floor bar, will require a password to get in

Coming Attractions
The Gatsby might be the speakeasy Chicago has been yearning for.
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Gangster lore has become a big part of Chicago’s fabric and internationally it’s one of the things the city is known for thanks to criminals like John Dillinger and Al Capone. Regardless of how healthy it is to romanticize those figures, the popularity of speakeasy-style bars is tied to an affection for the era.

Still, let’s face it: Without Prohibition, most speakeasy-style bars mimicking the era fall flat without whatever thrill comes from the threat of federal agents raiding a space.

But if immersion is the goal, a new Lincoln Park bar may be the right place to take a trip back to the Roaring ‘20s. The owners of the Bourgeois Pig Cafe — a 30-year-old coffee house serving DePaul University students, visitors from nearby hostels, and the workers at Children’s Memorial Hospital before the hospital’s departure — have converted their upstairs space into the Gatsby, a swanky new cocktail bar that gives locals new second-floor perspective in the middle of an area filled with sports bars at Lincoln, Fullerton, and Halsted.

The design uses the Pig’s aesthetic: dark woods, tons of books, and framed oil paintings. Patrons will enter through a swinging bookshelf that reveals a metal door with a sliding peephole. Visitors will need a password and reservations.

A word about the quarter-inch steel door: Chicago historians know the tale of Dillinger’s demise. The bank robber was gunned down by FBI agents down the street outside the Biograph Theater in 1934. The Gatsby’s door was allegedly salvaged from a basement speakeasy where seedy characters, including Dillinger and Capone, likely roamed.

While the speakeasy space is exclusive, the entire coffee shop will undergo a nocturnal transformation at 5 p.m. with a focus on French and American wines. Literature has always been part of the Bourgeois Pig’s feel with numerous bookshelves adding to the shop’s character. The sandwiches are also named after famous works like Catcher in the Rye. The food menu will evolve to pair with the wines with charcuterie, cheese, pate, and smoked fish boards. Other options include flatbread pizzas. The speakeasy space will start out with bacon-wrapped dates and charcuterie.

Founder Mason Green opened the Bourgeois Pig 30 years ago and says he’s been working on the speakeasy for years, predating 2020’s start of the pandemic. He calls it a labor of love to convert the space.

Bartender Connor Barnett, who worked at Bazaar Meat and Spilt Milk, calls this a dream job. Green and co-owner Alex Dzakovic had finished the space when he met them. They wanted someone who could create a unique beverage list that could properly tap into nostalgia. Barnett wants to have six cocktails on the menu and, down the line, a few available on draft. It would be too easy to offer an espresso martini in the coffee shop. But, wanting to distinguish itself from the bars near DePaul’s campus, the staff is going a little further than that.

For example, one drink, “Old Sport,” uses leather-aged vermouth that’s mixed with brandy, scotch, and Campari. Another, “Voice Full of Money,” is a rye & cognac milk punch, chamomile, red wine foam, and black truffle.

The bar officially opens this weekend. Stay tuned for an inside look.

The Gatsby at Bourgeois Pig Cafe, 748 W. Fullerton Avenue, opening on Friday, September 15, reservations via OpenTable.