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A Prohibition-Era Tunnel

There’s more than spilled beer beneath your feet at this North Side bowling alley.

I first heard about the old smuggling tunnel under Timber Lanes, a bowling alley in North Center, from my girlfriend, who’d heard about it from her dad, who’d heard about it from the alley’s 62-year-old owner, Bob Kuhn (pictured). When I asked Kuhn one day if he’d be willing to show me this subterranean relic of Chicago’s Prohibition era, he handed me a flashlight, led me over to a passageway alongside lane 1, and pulled up a few carpet tiles. Underneath was a square cut into the wood floor. Using two flathead screwdrivers, he pried the hatch open, and we descended a rickety ladder into the musty darkness. I found myself in a concrete-floored, low-ceilinged enclosure cluttered with dust-coated neon beer signs and an old gumball machine. Beyond that, down the narrow corridor running along the building’s 120-year-old cinder-block foundation, lay what Kuhn speculated was once the cooler room, where contraband beer was kept cold. Four chutes for empty bottles still connected the room to the bar directly above us. Then Kuhn pointed to a knee-high pitch-black recess in the wall. “Leads right out to Wolcott Avenue,” he said. This was where crates of booze were delivered in the dark of night. The trapdoor to the sidewalk had long since been cemented over but, Kuhn surmised, was probably still there. Part of me wanted to shinny up and find out, but the part that was thirsty for fresh air and a beer won out.

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