The Green Mill is one of Chicago’s coolest jazz clubs. There’s a show every single night, sometimes more than one, and musicians will often play into the wee hours of the following morning. It’s the perfect place to track down prohibition jazz, 1940s Swing, or an avant-garde combo. Musicians cram onto the tiny stage while dancers fill the even smaller dancefloor. Even on week nights the long, narrow club fills to capacity, end to end, nearly bursting at the seams. It’s an energetic, living, breathing piece of history that embodies Chicago’s significant musical prowess.
The club is untouched by time, its popularity stemming from a sincere love of jazz rather than trends, fads, or gimmicks. The exceptional performers, coupled with the unique building, make going to the Green Mill a singular experience. It’s like stepping back in time; the building has hardly changed since the 1930s. The club is uncompromising in its vision and is unwilling to modernize (all part of its charm). As a result, it can be a bit intimidating for first-timers. Here are eight simple tips that will help you navigate and survive Chicago’s historic Green Mill.
1. Bring Cash
The club was opened in 1907 and hasn’t updated very much since. It’s cash only, so have some bills handy, especially when you walk in the door – there’s a small cover for shows (ranging from $4-$14). There is an ATM at the end of the bar, but it’s always best to arrive prepared.
2. Arrive Early
This is a hugely popular venue and it’s very small. If you’re attending a show and want a place to sit, arrive about an hour early. If you don’t, you may end up standing in the back, packed in like sardines.
3. Where You Should Sit
If you’re lucky enough to find seating, you have two options: the bar or the booths. If you grab a booth, you don’t have to bother going up to the bar. A server will take your order and bring you your drinks. Because it’s cash only, you cannot start a tab. Be prepared to pay when your server delivers your beverages.
4. Know Your Drink
The bar tenders at the Green Mill are a bit surly; one can hardly blame them considering the number of people they have to serve. They don’t take kindly to uncertainty or lots of questions, so it’s best to know what you want before you walk up to the bar. This ties in to our next tip…
5. Don’t Ask to See the Tunnels
This was one of Al Capone’s hangouts back in the 1920s and 1930s. The tunnels were used by the gangster to evade police during prohibition raids. Unless you want to annoy the bar tenders, don’t ask if you can see the tunnels. They are too busy to care about your interest in history. The club’s website states it clearly on their frequently asked questions page:
Q: Can I get a tour of the tunnels?
6. Don’t Arrive Hungry
They don’t serve food at the Green Mill. There are some tasty restaurants nearby but the club is drinks-only.
7. Get Off the Dancefloor if You are Not Dancing
As mentioned earlier, the dancefloor is extremely small and fills up quickly. In between music sets the crowd is allowed to linger, drink, and chat on the floor, but when the musicians return you need to get out of the way. The MC won’t allow the next set to start until the floor is cleared for dancers (a kindness greatly appreciated by those cutting a rug with Charleston, Lindy, and Swing).
8. Where You Should Park
This last tip is not very exciting but it’s extremely helpful. There many ways to get to the Green Mill using public transportation, but if you have to drive there is free parking in the lot just behind the venue on Magnolia Avenue. It’s free for club patrons from 6pm to 6am. There’s also free street parking directly on Magnolia.