The history, and now dismantling of Southport Lanes

Southport Lanes was built by the Schlitz brewery in 1922 as one of the hundreds of “tied houses” in the Midwest

Southport Lanes is officially closed, and the auction of items has ended. Signs have begun to be taken down and for the first time in decades, you are able to see the old facade.

Leo’s Southport Lanes in the 1960’s and 1970’s

Excerpts from the Chicago Bar project from several years ago:

Southport Lanes was built by the Schlitz brewery in 1922 as one of the hundreds of “tied houses” in the Midwest (only Schlitz beer could be served). Once Schlitz sold the bar, the menu offered fornication to help fund the transitional purchase to its new owners in addition to its nobler alcohol distribution efforts. Because prostitution was, and still is, illegal in Chicago, the owner had to subtly advertise the delights to be found upstairs. He did this by having M.K. Siegner paint murals on the walls depicting nymphs frolicking in negligees. 

Southport Lanes – 1990’s

Because prostitution was, and still is, illegal in Chicago, the owner had to subtly advertise the delights to be found upstairs. He did this by having M.K. Siegner paint murals on the walls depicting nymphs frolicking in negligees. These murals can still be seen today, both in the front room and above the bowling pins. Additional murals of these nymphs, sans clothing, could be found along the staircase and in the second floor bedrooms but those have since been painted over. 

Southport Lanes – July, 2021

In 1991, the bar was purchased and renovated by the same owners that later brought us the Daily Bar & Grill, and such now-defunct dillies as Corner Pocket (now Victory Liquors), Hudson Club, and Lucky Strike (now Seven Ten, which also offers bowling and billiards).

Ownership of Southport Lanes has since transitioned to the Spare Time empire, who also owns Seven Ten, Firehouse, Riverview Tavern, Robey Pizza Company, and Popkin Tavern (Richmond, Virginia). Fortunately, the new owners did not mess with the formula that made the original, “Leo’s Southport Lanes,” an excellent tavern. Leo’s was run by Leo and Ella Beitz dating back to 1960, who took over from Leo’s parents who ran it since 1946.

The building dates back to 1920 and still features its original English tap house design, with its long wooden bar, leaded stained glass, long wooden beams, a marble floor, and Schlitz can still be had, albeit out of a can.

From WGN – September, 2020

Over the years, much has changed in the Southport Corridor on the North Side, but one slice of prohibition-era history has been constant: Southport Lanes. 

First built as a Schlitz “tied house” on the corner of Southport Avenue and Henderson Street around 1900, it became Southport Lanes in 1922 and was believed to be one of the last bowling alleys in the country to use human pinsetters instead of machines. 

But now the owners say Southport Lanes will close for good on September 27.

Sal Infantino, who is getting ready to turn 81 years old, worked as a pin setter there.

“You just set pins, that’s all, and after the lane, after a game the guy would throw down a dime or a quarter, sometimes they give you a little extra and that was it,” Infantino said.

The tradition lived on, but now, the lanes are quiet —  and they’ll stay that way. 

General Manager Phil Carneol says he started as a bartender in 1991, and even before COVID-19 hit, it was difficult to stay open. Once the pandemic hit Chicago, it proved impossible.

“The information is slapping us in the face: we just can’t survive,” Carneol said. “It will be missed. I’m thankful to be a part of it.”

Carneol said his number one worry is the employees who will be out of work, but he’s still proud of the place. 

Rest in peace, old friend

Sal Infantino and his daughter stopped by after hearing the news Southport Lanes would close to capture one last memory. 

“It was good to see it, and now it’s gonna go and it’ll be gone,” Infantino said. “I don’t know if another bar is going to come in here or not, but that’s the way it is.”

Hauling away the entrance door sign (Chicago Tribune)

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