General

Where in the world wasn’t Al Capone?

This weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

On Jan. 25, 1947, four days after suffering a stroke, Al Capone died from cardiac arrest at the relatively tender age of 48. I find it amazing, however, that he lived even that long, although not because it seems like a Tommy Gun should have killed him.

Rather, I’m surprised Al’s social calendar didn’t do him in.

Cause of death: Extreme exhaustion.

Much like George Washington allegedly slept in every other home along the Eastern seaboard, if Capone frequented even a tenth of the places that he’s said to have, the notorious mobster hardly would have had time to build his Chicago crime empire, let alone run the thing.

For example, a cursory Internet search reveals that the locales claiming to have been regularly visited by Capone include Johnson City, Tenn. (which bills itself as “Little Chicago” because of its bootlegging pedigree), Ensenada, Calif. (where Capone supposedly often dined at the Fleur de Italia) and Louisville, Ky., (where the Seelbach Hotel says the notorious gangster was a fixture at secret poker games).

In Berkeley, N.J., the Royal Pines Hotel claims that Capone frequented the place as a hideout. The Casa Marina Hotel in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and the Twin Gables Inn in Saugatuck, Mich., say the same. Other hotspots allegedly included Montreal, Lake Geneva, Wis., Hot Springs, Ark., French Lick, Ind., Olean, N.Y., and Puerto Penasco, Mexico.

Meet Alphonse Capone, the original frequent flyer.

Closer to home, the Round Robin Inn in Mundelein, the Mineola Lounge in Fox Lake, the Klas Restauarnt in Cicero and a former speakeasy near St. Charles now christened “Al Capone’s Hideaway Lounge” all claim to have been among Scarface’s favorites. I’ve heard rumors about greater La Salle County, too.

And we haven’t even mentioned Chicago yet.

In the Windy City, where Capone built his legend, he’s said to have unwound at the Green Mill nightclub at 4802 N. Broadway in Uptown that was owned by his top killer, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn. The Jewelers Building at 35 E. Wacker Drive claims that Capone frequented the former Stratosphere Lounge speakeasy on its top floor.

Down at 3174 S. Halsted Ave., Schaller’s Pump – so named because during Prohibition they pumped beer into the bar through a hose connected to a nearby brewery – is said to have been a Capone favorite, as well. Same goes for the Blackstone Hotel (636 S. Michigan Ave.), Margie’s Candies (1960 N. Western Ave.) and countless other spots.
Last week, I made like Elliot Ness and chased Capone’s ghost to one of those supposed haunts, the Exchequer Pub at 226 S. Wabash Ave. tucked beneath the clattering “L” tracks in the heart of the Loop.

During the Roaring ’20s, the Exchequer – now named after the National Treasury of England – was called the 226 Club. The restaurant says “rumor” has it that back then it was a speakeasy and was, yes, frequented by Capone. “After all,” as the Exchequer menu reads, “Big Al lived just a few blocks south.”

Today, the Exchequer menu features a “Capone’s bone-in-ribeye” (for $26.95) and ore than 500 pieces of Windy City memorabilia, including framed, yellowed front pages of the Chicago Daily News with headlines that scream “CAPONE GETS ELEVEN YEARS” and “LEGAL LIQUOR FLOWS TODAY.”

On the wall of the Exchequer also hangs a framed photo Capone’s humble gravestone at Mount Carmel cemetery in Hillside (epitaph: “My Jesus Mercy), as well as a casual shot of Capone, his tie loosened and shirtsleeves rolled up, lounging on a lawn with family members. Its caption reads: “Big Al chillin’ after dinner at The Exchequer.”

Or maybe it was after dinner in Johnson City.

Who can keep track?