In the mid-19th century, moral reformers viewed the saloon with unmitigated outrage. By the turn of the 20th century, though, anti-liquor groups such as the “Committee of Fifty” attempted to take a more dispassionate look at the saloon and its appeal to workingmen. Their goal was to displace the saloon by sponsoring non-liquor centered “substitutes.” These efforts largely failed, but reformers’ inquiries produced highly informative descriptions of saloon life at the end of the 19th century. The following article by sociologist Royal Melendy on “The Saloon in Chicago,” published in 1900, conveyed a sense of how the saloon met a range of urban workers’ social, economic, and cultural needs. Melendy’s use of the term “workingman” emphasized the male character of the saloon. This should not be taken to mean that working-class women did not drink, but that drinking frequently took place at home. Some women, however, especially German and English immigrants, did drink in saloons and beer gardens.
The investigations of which this is a partial report were made under the auspices of the Ethical Subcommittee of the Committee of Fifty. “This committee, made up of persons representing different communities, occupations, and opinions, is engaged in the study of the liquor problem, in the hope of securing a body of facts which may serve as a basis for intelligent public and private action. It is the purpose of the committee to collect and collate impartially all accessible facts which bear upon the problem, and it is its hope to secure for the evidence thus accumulated a measure of confidence, on the part of the community, which is not accorded to partisan statements.”
The investigations here reported were carried on from the Chicago Commons, a social settlement in the very heart of the industrial district, in one of the river wards of Chicago. It is probable that no better laboratory for the study of the social problems of America exists than this same district. Here, as from upturned strata, we can discover what have been the forces that brought about the present conditions, and some of the agencies now at work in the formation of the future.
I have sought to distinguish between those conclusions which the facts in hand fully warrant, and those to which they seem to point. Although, in the study of social questions, it is impossible wholly to eradicate the personal equation, I have attempted to do so as far as possible, by discussions with men of all classes, of all shades of religious and political opinions. Professors, ministers, business-men, settlement workers, police and sporting men, have, each in their way, rendered me invaluable service. In the homes and on the street corners, in the churches, saloons, and at places of amusement, at all hours of the day and night, and in all manner of clothes, I have gathered the facts which form the basis of this report.
I am especially grateful to Professor Graham Taylor, of the sociological department of the Chicago Theological Seminary, warden of Chicago Commons, and pastor of one of the churches of this district; and to Mr. John Palmer Gavit, editor of The Commons, who have willingly given their time to direct and discuss with me the details of the investigation. I would also acknowledge the courtesy of Joseph Kipley, chief of police, through whose order the special statistics in regard to the saloons and billiard halls were collected by the police department. (To be published in the full report of the Committee of Fifty.)
THE SALOON IN GENERAL.
In considering the subject “Ethical Substitutes for the Saloon,” it is essential that a careful study be made of the saloon itself, and that we seek first to determine the real nature of the institution in the abolition of which substitution may assist. We must try to ascertain the secret of its hold upon our civilization, tracing in the family, political and social life, and habits of the people the roots of this mighty tree whose shadows are casting an ever-deepening gloom over all other institutions. Above all we must try to lay aside for the present all preconceived ideas of the saloon, lest prejudice should keep from us the truth. It is only on the basis of precise observation of actual facts that our study can advance.
The popular conception of the saloon as a “place where men and women revel in drunkenness and shame,” or “where the sotted beasts gather nightly at the bar,” is due to exaggerated pictures, drawn by temperance lecturers and evangelists, intended to excite the imagination with a view to arousing public sentiment. I am not charging them with intended falsehood, but with placing in combination things which never so exist in real life; with blending into one picture hideous incidents taken here and there from the lives of those whom the saloon has wrecked; with portraying vividly the dark side of saloon life and calling this picture “the saloon.” But it may be asked: “Are they not justified in doing so? Are not these the legitimate products of the saloon ? By their fruits ye shall know them.” Let one step into your orchard, and, gathering into a basket the small, wormeaten, and half-decayed windfalls return to you saying: “This is the fruit grown in your orchard—as the fruit, so is the orchard.” The injustice is apparent.
The term “saloon” is too general to admit of concise definition. It is an institution grown up among the people, not only in answer to their demand for its wares, but to their demand for certain necessities and conveniences, which it supplies, either alone or better than any other agency. It is a part of the neighborhood, which must change with the neighborhood; it fulfills in it the social functions which unfortunately have been left to it to exercise. With keen insight into human nature and into the wants of the people, it anticipates all other agencies in supplying them, and thus claims its right to existence. In some sections of the city it has the appearance of accomplishing more for the laboring classes from business interests than we from philanthropic motives. The almost complete absence of those things with which the uninitiated are accustomed to associate the drinking of liquor, and the presence of much that is in itself beneficial, often turns them into advocates of the saloon as a social necessity—an equally false position.
Hedged in on every side by law, opposed by every contrivance the mind of man could invent, the saloon persists in existing and flourishing—“it spreadeth like a green bay tree.” The very fact of its persistence ought to cause us to realize that we have not yet struck at the root. The saloon in Chicago is restricted by every kind of law, yet it sells liquor to minors, keeps open door all night and Sundays, from January 1 to January 1. True, some of the down-town saloons close at 12 o’clock. But why? In obedience to the ordinance filed away in the archives of the city hall? Not so; but in obedience to another law—the law of demand. Those who in the daytime patronize the down-town saloons have returned to their homes and have joined the patrons of the saloons of their immediate neighborhoods. This is the law—and almost the only law that they will obey, and it is this law that we must face and deal with unflinchingly.
THE SALOON IN WORKINGMEN’S DISTRICTS.
When the poor, underpaid, and unskilled laborer returns from his day’s work, go with him, if you will, into the room or rooms he calls “home.” Eat with him there, in the midst of those squalid surroundings and to the music of crying children, a scanty, poorly cooked meal served by an unkempt wife. Ask yourself if this is just the place where he would want to spend his evenings, night after night; if here he will find the mental stimulus as necessary to his life as to your life. Is there no escape from the inevitable despair that must come to him whose long hours of heavy physical labor preclude any mental enjoyment, if his few leisure hours are to be spent in the wretched surroundings of a home, or, worse yet, of the ordinary cheap lodging-house, either of which must constantly remind him of his poverty? Are there not places in the neighborhood where the surroundings will be more congenial; where his mental, yes, his moral, nature will have a better chance for development? Are there not some in the neighborhood who have recognized and sought to satisfy the social cravings of these men, which the home at best does not wholly satisfy?
Yes, business interests have occupied this field. With a shrewd foresight, partially due to the fierce competition between the great brewing companies, they have seen and met these needs. The following table, made by a careful investigation of each of the 163 saloons of the seventeenth ward—a fairly representative ward of the working people—shows some of the attractions offered by these saloons:
Number of saloons 163
Number offering free lunches 111
" " business lunches 24
" supplied with tables 147
" " papers 139
" " music 8
" " billiard tables 44
" " stalls 56
" " dance halls 6
" " allowing gambling 3
In the statement, now current among those who have studied the saloon “at first hand,” that it is the workingman’s club, lies the secret of its hold upon the vast working and voting populace of Chicago. That same instinct in man which leads those of the more resourceful classes to form such clubs as the Union League Club, or the Marquette Club; which leads the college man into the fraternity, leads the laboring men into the clubs furnished them by the saloonkeeper, not from philanthropic motives, but because of shrewd business foresight. The term “club” applies; for, though unorganized, each saloon has about the same constituency night after night. Its character is determined by the character of the men who, having something in common, make the saloon their rendezvous. Their common ground may be their nationality, as the name “Italian Headquarters” implies; or it may be their occupation, as indicated by the names “Mechanics' Exchange,” "Milkman’s Exchange,“ etc.; or, if their political affiliations are their common ground, there are the ” Democratic Headquarters of the Eighteenth Ward,“ etc. As shown above, the ”club-room“ is furnished with tables, usually polished and cleaned, with from two to six chairs at each table. As you step in, you find a few men standing at the bar, a few drinking, and farther back men are seated about the tables, reading, playing cards, eating, and discussing, over a glass of beer, subjects varying from the political and sociological problems of the day to the sporting news and the lighter chat of the immediate neighborhood. Untrammeled by rules and restrictions, it surpasses in spirit the organized club. That general atmosphere of freedom, that spirit of democracy, which men crave, is here realized; that men seek it and that the saloon tries to cultivate it is blazoned forth in such titles as ”The Freedom,“ "The Social,” "The Club,“ etc. Here men ”shake out their hearts together." Intercourse quickens the thought, feeling, and action.
In many of these discussions, to which I have listened and in which I have joined, there has been revealed a deeper insight into the real cause of present evils than is often manifested from lecture platforms, but their remedies are wide of the mark, each bringing forward a theory which is the panacea for all social ills. The names of Karl Marx and leaders of political and social thought are often heard here. This is the workingman’s school. He is both scholar and teacher. The problems of national welfare are solved here. Many as patriotic men as our country produces learn here their lessons in patriotism and brotherhood. Here the masses receive their lessons in civil government, learning less of our ideals, but more of the practical workings than the public schools teach. It is the most cosmopolitan institution in the most cosmopolitan of cities. One saloon advertises its cosmopolitanism by this title, “Everybody’s Exchange.” Men of all nationalities meet and mingle, and by the interchange of views and opinions their own are modified. Nothing short of travel could exert so broadening an influence upon these men. It does much to assimilate the heterogeneous crowds that are constantly pouring into our city from foreign shores. But here, too, they learn their lessons in corruption and vice. It is their school for good and evil.
The saloonkeeper, usually a man their superior in intelligence, often directs their thought. He has in his possession the latest political and sporting news. Here in argument each has fair play. He who can win and tell the best story is, not by election, but by virtue of fitness, the leader. The saloon is, in short, the clearing-house for the common intelligence—the social and intellectual center of the neighborhood.
Again, some saloons offer rooms furnished, heated, and lighted, free to certain men’s clubs and organizations. For example, a certain German musical society, occupying one of these rooms, fully compensates the saloonkeeper with the money that passes over the bar as the members go in and out of the club-room. In like manner some trade unions and fraternal organizations are supplied with meeting-places. A saloon on Armitage avenue has a bowling-alley, billiard tables, and club-rooms, in which nonpartisan political meetings were held during last spring’s campaign. It is also offered to the people for various neighborhood meetings. In such a room a gay wedding party celebrated the marriage vow. It is, in very truth, a part of the life of the people of this district.
But the young man, where does he spend his evenings? Leaving the supper table he takes his hat and sets out from home, to go where? Let us follow the boy in the crowded districts—in the river wards of Chicago. As he comes out of the house into the street he is surrounded for miles with brick and mortar; not a blade of grass or a leaf of green to be seen. Placing his fingers to his mouth he gives a shrill whistle, which is answered by one and another of the boys, till the little crowd—their club—has gathered. Seeking to join informally such a crowd of the older young men, the only question asked on eligibility was: “Can you run?” Short words, but of tremendous significance. It is this: As soon as a small crowd of boys collects it is dispersed by the police. Having been arrested once or twice, these young men learned the lesson, and I was told “to scatter” at the word “jiggers,” the warning note given at the sight of an approaching “cop.” Driven about the streets like dogs by the civil authorities (whether it be necessary I am not now discussing); provided with no place for the healthy exercise of their physical natures, or even an opportunity to meet and tell stories, they have recourse to but one of two alternatives: to dodge the police, hiding in underground caves and under sidewalks until they become hardened against the law; or to enter the places the saloon has provided for them.
Thus again business interests have seized the opportunity that has been let slip, and have taken advantage of boys' necessities. Rooms, well lighted, furnished with billiard and pool tables, tables for cards and other games, are placed at the disposal of these boys. Five cents is charged for a game of billiards and a check which entitles the holder to a glass of beer, a five-cent cigar, a box of cigarettes, or a soft drink. The table shows 27 per cent. of these saloons thus equipped. Much less numerous are the saloons furnishing handball courts. These courts, models of attractiveness when compared with the neighborhood in which they are located, are used by young and old. Shower-baths are provided free. The boys must pass out by the bar of the adjoining saloon, where, heated by the game and feeling somewhat under obligations, they patronize the saloonkeeper. Some saloons have gymnasiums, more or less fully equipped. Bowling-alleys and shuffle-board are among the attractions offered.
For the large floating population of these districts, and for the thousands of men whose only home is in the street or the cheap lodging-house, where they are herded together like cattle, the saloon is practically the basis of food supply. The table shows that 68 per cent. furnish free lunches, and 15 per cent. business lunches. On the free-lunch counters are dishes containing bread, several kinds of meats, vegetables, cheeses, etc., to which the men freely help themselves. Red-hots (Frankfurters), clams, and egg sandwiches are dispensed with equal freedom to those who drink and to those who do not. For those desiring a hot lunch, clam chowder, hot potatoes, several kinds of meat, and vegetables are served at tables, nearly always with a glass of beer. The following amount is consumed per day in a saloon near here: 150–200 pounds of meat, 1 1/2–2 bushels of potatoes, 50 loaves of bread, 35 pounds of beans, 45 dozens of eggs on some days (eggs not usually being used), 10 dozen ears of sweet corn, $1.50-$2 worth of vegetables. Five men are constantly employed at the lunch counter. The total cost of the lunch is $30 to $40 per day.
That the saloons are able to put out such an abundance, and of such variety and quality, is due to the competition of the large brewing companies. These companies own a very large number of the saloons in Chicago. Thus the cost of not only the beer, but the meat, bread, and vegetables, bought in vast quantities, is greatly reduced. Only a portion of those who drink patronize the lunch counter. The small dealers are forced into the competition by the larger ones. The general appearance of abundance, so lacking either in their homes or in the cheap restaurants, and the absence of any sense of charity, so distasteful to the self-respecting man, add to the attractiveness of the place, and are a wonderful help to the digestion. Here the hungry and the penniless find relief for the time, few being turned away until they become “steady regulars.” I believe it is true that all the charity organizations in Chicago combined are feeding fewer people than the saloons. No questions are asked about the “deserving poor;” no “work test” is applied; and again and again relief is given in the shape of money, “loaned expecting no return.”
Another function of the Charity Organization Society the saloon has taken unto itself and exercises more or less perfectly: the laboring man out of employment knows that in some saloon he is likely to find, not only temporary relief, but assistance in finding work. That these saloons pose as labor bureaus is evidenced by the names placed above their doors. The significance of these names is this: Men of the same trade, having common interests, make the saloon that represents their interests their rendezvous. To the “Stonecutters' Exchange,” for example, men seeking stonecutters often apply. But information concerning positions is dependent more upon that gathered by the men themselves and made common property. Many a man has been “put on his feet” by just this kind of help, nor does he feel that he is accepting charity, but that he is as likely to give as to receive. He is asked neither his age nor his pedigree. His past history is not desired as long as he is in need now. Not a sense of obligation, but a real feeling of brotherhood; and this feeling, existing among these men to a degree not usually recognized, prompts them to aid each other. Grateful is he to the saloon that was his “friend in need;” bitter toward those who, without offering anything better, propose to take from him the only institution that has befriended him.
Scattered throughout the city, within easy reach of any neighborhood, are saloons offering a form of entertainment to the people not unlike the cheap vaudeville. Passing back of the screen, we enter a large room filled with tables and chairs; at the end of the room is a stage. While men and women sit around these tables, drinking beer and smoking, the painted, bawdy girls entertain them with the latest popular songs and the skirt dance. The regular vaudeville bill, including the comic man, acrobatic feats, cake-walks, etc., is presented. The character of the entertainment is but a reflection of the character of the neighborhood. In some communities no obscene word is uttered, and but little that is suggestive of evil is presented. It affords an opportunity for the hard-worked men and women to escape from their stuffy homes and thoughts of poverty into a clean, well-lighted room, where with their families they canenjoy an evening of pleasure. To see the hardened, careworn expressions on their faces gradually relax and melt away into expressions of simple enjoyment, as they laugh heartily at the jokes, might at first arouse one’s sense of humor, but it would soon impress one deeply with the pathos of it all: with the thought that this little entertainment, cheap and vulgar as it is, seems to satisfy their longing for amusement. Patriotic songs are never missing, and I have heard them join heartily in the chorus. Cheer after cheer greets the names of our heroes, as they appear in the songs of the girls. The sense of the masses on the Cuban war policy could easily be determined by their applause and hisses at the saloon vaudevilles. These people have a sense of honor peculiar to themselves, and a careful observation of that which most frequently elicits their applause shows that an appeal to their sense of honor is sure to be well received. In——-'s vaudeville saloon it is estimated that 3,000 pass in and out between the hours of 8 P. M. and 6 A. M. Saturday nights. As has been stated, the character of these saloons varies with the neighborhood, and vulgar songs are frequently sung. The evil influence of some of these cannot be overestimated. Then too prostitutes often come here and mingle with the crowd.
A function, which should rightly be a civic one, the saloon has appropriated, and added to the long list of the necessities to which it ministers—that of furnishing to the people the only toilet conveniences in large sections of the city. In this respect the ordinary hotel is not better equipped than are the saloons. Moreover, either by their clerks or by signs, the hotels inform the man who habitually takes advantage of them that they are not for the use of the general public. We are behind European municipalities in this respect, and Chicago is especially deficient. Here is a field awaiting the efforts of some public-spirited man, a service by no means small, and one that would directly affect the liquor interests. Not that it will cause any man to cease drinking, but that it will remove a temptation from thousands of men who, of necessity, daily pass the bar which they feel under obligation to patronize. Nor will it longer necessitate the familiarizing of little boys with the evils of saloon life. Such are a few of the attractions which the saloon in the workingmen’s district offer to its patrons
While it is true that a vast army the laboring men and boys find the saloon the best place in their neighborhood for the development of their social, intellectual, and physical natures, they find there also things which appeal to their lower natures. Almost without exception the saloons exhibit pictures of the nude; in the higher-class saloons by costly paintings, in the smaller saloons by cards furnished by the brewing companies. As the saloon is “no respecter of persons,” even in the best of them vile persons find entrance. That the youths are here corrupted is too well known. Our table reveals the appalling fact that 34 1/2 per cent. of the saloons in this district are stall saloons. These saloons have set aside a large. portion of the back of the building for private “wine-rooms,” which, whether designed for this purpose or not, are used by prostitutes as places of assignation. There may be no definite business agreement between these women and the keepers of these saloons (I doubt if there is), but as a rule the saloon keepers are compensated for the extra space and furniture by the money paid for drinks by young men attracted by these women. To set up the drinks to “the girls” is a custom; the women calling for “small beer” urge the men “to set 'em up” again and again; hence they are a source of revenue to the saloon. Their part in the profit is this: it furnishes them a suitable “hang-out,” a place where they may secure customers for their inhuman trade, carried on, not in the saloon as a rule, but in their rooms, usually in the immediate vicinity, though occasionally miles away, lest they should be detected.
Again, as all through this study, exceptions must be made. These “wine-rooms” are not always used for illegitimate purposes. Where is the respectable young woman, who is but one member of a large family, all living, or rather existing, in a single room which serves as kitchen, dining-room, parlor, and bedroom for the entire family, to receive her young men friends? Is it strange that she takes advantage of these “wine-rooms”? Here her father goes; her mother and brothers are often there. They come here on cold nights to save fuel and light. Here, when a little tot, she used to come for the pitcher of beer; here, barefooted and dirty, she would run to hear the music of the German band; if she were pretty and could sing, many a bright ribbon did she buy with the money earned here. No, they are not all directly evil places, but the temptation is tremendous. How can a child, brought up in such a locality, forced to receive from the saloon even the common necessities and conveniences of life, grow up into noble and beautiful womanhood?
In about 2 per cent. of these saloons gambling is permitted. It is open and unrestricted, whenever sufficient “hush money” is paid. That more do not exist is simply due to the fact that the demand is not great enough for a larger number to thrive and pay the exorbitant “tax.” The saloon, too, is in a very small number of cases, many times smaller than is usually believed, a rendezvous for criminals. There are low dives of indescribable filthiness, where vice is open and shameless.
Be it known, however, that there are in every neighborhood saloons free from any connection whatever with gambling or the social vice—places where indecency in conversation or manner is strictly prohibited, and drinking to excess not allowed. This is sometimes to secure “a better class of trade,” and sometimes, incredible as it seems, to accord with certain principles and religious scruples of the saloonkeepers, who are not all archfiends of the evil one.
THE SALOON IN BUSINESS SECTIONS.
The saloon in business portions presents a slightly different phase. While it is true that saloons in all parts of the city have about the same features, it is also true that in some certain features predominate, as the peculiar conditions emphasize that particular demand. Thus in the workingmen’s district, the wretched conditions of home- and lodging-house life, and the failure of church and philanthropy to provide opportunity for social life, have turned over to the saloon this large field, from which it is reaping an abundant harvest. So in the business portions the lack of an adequate provision of places for business appointments has given the saloon an advantage which it was quick to take. Men who spend the day in the heart of the city come here for business and do not, as a rule, have time to sit around in saloons. Neither in the evening have the social features any special attraction for them. The majority of these men find in their homes and in the clubs to which they belong ample opportunity for social life. A larger per cent. than in the districts just treated enter the saloon just for the drink and pass out again.
The average business-man, aside from the regular duties of his office or place of business, has many appointments of a semibusiness nature. Seeking a place for these appointments, other than his office, where constant interruptions must occur, he finds in many a first-class saloon a place altogether suited to this purpose. Here he may sit down, often in an alcove, at one of the polished oak tables with which this “drawing-room” is furnished, and discuss business at leisure. Some of these “drawingrooms” are veritable palm gardens; costly paintings hang upon the walls; German orchestras, playing with exquisite taste, fill the air with music. Soft drinks are sold, and many an hour is spent in these places by those who may not know the taste of beer. In this connection it may be noted that soft drinks are expensive, because, as one manager said, “we are not here to sell soft drinks, and hope to force everyone to take beer or wine; there is more profit in them.” Not only are these used for business appointments, but separate rooms are sometimes furnished for the use of committees and small meetings of various character, no charge for their use being attached. There are in the city other places than the saloon for such appointments, but because of their scarcity and inadequacy need hardly be taken into account. Many business transactions take place in these saloons. The head of a department in one of Chicago’s large wholesale houses assures me that certain of their best salesmen sell a large portion of their goods “over a glass of beer” in a neighboring saloon. The glass of beer in a business transaction has a function similar to that of the cigarette in diplomacy. Certain saloons, whose only distinguishing feature is their oddity and the novelties they present, owe their existence to a custom of long standing among wholesale merchants and others who take their “country cousins” to “see the sights.” The music in some of these places is worthy of special mention. Orchestras, led by well-known musicians, attract people from all parts of city, people who come and spend the evening listening to the music. To the——— and——— young people come in great numbers, and when the theaters close these places usually fill rapidly. Clubs and fraternities here banquet their new members. Neither rowdyism nor anything other than good manners is public here.
The most distinguishing feature of the down-town saloon is the business lunch. But very few of the thousands who spend the day down town in offices or behind counters, live within several miles of their work. This means that it is both cheaper and more convenient, if not necessary, to get their lunch near their place of business. The liquor dealers have found it highly profitable to run restaurants in connection with their saloons. Because of their neatness, and at least the semblance of elegance and beauty, and of the music, which is of itself a strong inducement, they are patronized, not only by those who drink, but by hundreds who are willing to go where they can get the best for the least. The proprietor of one of the down-town restaurants said that he could afford to lose $30 to $75, or even $100, a day for the sake of advertising the beer under whose name and auspices his place was run.
That the saloons are able to compete with the restaurants so successfully is partly due to the fact that many of them are united under the control of the brewing companies—gigantic monopolies. Likewise, here the free lunch is well patronized. Hundreds, who breakfast and dine at their homes, especially those of sedentary habits, find sufficient for the midday lunch in that served with the glass of beer, usually several slices of cold meats, an abundance of bread, vegetables, cheeses, etc.
Here, as everywhere in Chicago, the social vice flourishes in connection with the liquor traffic. Here the proportion of the saloons in which the stall system is in vogue—which are used as houses of assignation—is relatively small. The saloons having any connection whatever with this evil all have a dance hall in the rear and a house of ill-fame above, all under one management. These, however, are not scattered throughout among the business blocks, as are the stalls in the workingmen’s districts, but are clustered about certain streets, principally parts of Clark street, State street, Dearborn street, Custom House place, Wabash avenue, Plymouth place, and others. Suffice it to say that few enter these places who do not know the character of these saloons, so that in reality they amount to houses of ill-fame, with bar attachment.
THE SALOON IN SUBURBAN DISTRICTS.
In the suburban districts the saloon takes on still another character. The family saloon, the beer-garden, and the roadhouse are more in evidence. Throughout the entire city the saloons pose as family saloons, hanging out the sign “family entrance,” but it is more particularly in the suburban saloons that one sees the families sitting together in groups. The main thoroughfare running through a suburban district is, so far as the saloon is concerned, a cross-section of the whole city, exhibiting the saloon in all its varying characters, both as to its moral tone and as to its social functions. The most delightful and apparently harmless feature of the saloon is the beer-garden Here is an instance where the words “saloon” and “beer-garden” are so loaded down with conflicting meanings and prejudices that they utterly fail to be of further service in conveying thought. To the German the word “beer-garden” carries with it no moral idea whatever; indeed, among them it is a highly creditable feature of their social life. To the temperance enthusiast, it stands for all that is base and low—an equally erroneous conviction. These gardens are numerous in the suburban districts.
The———, a typical German beer-garden, though scarcely comparable with the———, accommodates 4,700. During the summer an average of 3,000 gather at the—- -, on the north side, every day, principally for the music. From a band-stand in the rear of the garden an orchestra renders exquisite music. This orchestra receives $125 per day for its services from 6 P.M. to 11 P. M. The waiters, most of them fine-appearing elderly gentlemen, dressed in black, serve beer, wines, and soft drinks to the people out in the open, while at tables beneath the roof dinners are being served. The garden is brilliantly lighted with Japanese lanterns hanging from the trees. The lights, the trees, the starry heavens above, the moon gliding now and then behind the clouds, soul-stirring music, now strong and full, now soft and sweet, make this a charming spot where lovers delight to come, where the business-man, returned from the crowded centers of the city, comes with wife and child, and the business cares float gradually away, borne on the lighter strains of music. Old men with their pipes find in this place a never-ending source of pleasure, and will sit by the hour philosophizing and reminiscing over a single glass of beer. The people gathered here are in the main well-dressed and of more than the average intelligence. They are representative of the middle and upper classes of the suburban districts.
A young woman of strong temperance views exclaimed, after spending an hour in this garden for the first time: “Isn’t it beautiful ? Can it be, is it possible, that after all our ideas are wrong and these people are right?” It is not for our report to judge, but this is true that, while drinking to excess is seldom known here, a certain proportion of the patrons acquire in these beautiful and apparently harmless surroundings the progressive appetite which, with men of some temperaments, means the whole sad story of the ruined home and the drunkard’s grave. Too much importance can scarcely be attached to the music rendered in some of these resorts. It is of the first quality and to be had every night for the nominal fee of $0.25. People, many of whom do not drink at all, gather here from far and near. The gardens draw their patronage mostly from those who own comfortable homes in the suburbs.
There are, of course, beer-gardens of all grades and qualities, but those for the poorer classes, the ten-cent and free gardens, are mostly in the form of open-air vaudevilles. In these the music is inferior, and the vaudeville bill, similar to that mentioned in a previous paragraph, is presented. They are much more numerous here than are the saloon vaudevilles of the city centers, and here no roof is necessary to keep out the smoke and dirt.
A unique feature of the suburban districts is the road-house. Buildings, interesting in their exterior architecture and well equipped within, are located along the road to the suburban districts. They are especially adapted to wheelmen and other pleasure-seekers wishing to stop for rest and refreshment.
As a general rule, funeral processions returning from the cemeteries that lie along the road to these suburban districts stop here for beer and refreshments. Drivers stop at the particular house of which they are regular customers, and the majority of the people in the procession stop and drink also.
An example of these is the————-, one of the many on the road between Chicago and Evanston. There are accommodations for wheels and carriages. A large room is furnished with tables and chairs, and either a glass of beer and light lunch or a dinner is served. Palms figure here as usual in the decorations. The bar-room is large and attractive. Above are rooms “free for private parties, balls, etc.”
The adaptability of the saloon to the needs of a particular locality is a source of constant surprise and admiration, as it is also a cause of genuine consternation among Christian people who reflect at all upon the cautious institutionalism of the churches.
Source: Royal Melendy, “The Saloon in Chicago,” The American Journal of Sociology, vol 6, Number 3 (November 1900): 289–306. “The Saloon in Chicago II,” Ibid. (January 1901): 433–464.