Scene from the 1970s: Roger Ebert (second from the right) and Tom Wolfe (left of
Ebert) at O’Rourke’s saloon.
A reporter and a photographer walk into a bar . . .
In its heyday, Old Town’s late, great O’Rourke’s pub was a raucous, bruising Big Shoulders version of a literary salon. Regulars included Nelson Algren, Roger Ebert, Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, and Tom Fitzpatrick. When celebrities were in town, they gravitated toward the place. (In a December 2005 Chicago magazine profile, “A Life in the Movies” by Carol Felsenthal, Ebert remembers Charlton Heston autographing a woman’s bra there.) Through the 1960s and into the ‘70s, the neighborhood became known among reporters as “The Bermuda Triangle” on account of the many souls who lost themselves in the tri-tavern axis of Riccardo’s, O’Rourke’s, and the Old Town Ale House.
Tales of that storied saloon society will take center stage Friday night at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City, Indiana. Rick Kogan, the veteran Chicago journalist and O’Rourke’s veteran, and the photographer Jack Lane will share their memories of the bar and the culture within. Kogan, who grew up less than three blocks from O’Rourke’s, plans to talk about hanging out there as a young writer and how the neighborhood became a stomping ground for writers and actors, from established literary superstars such as Tom Wolfe to rising Second City stars such as John Belushi.
The panel discussion marks the opening of a new exhibit of Lane’s photographs, which features images from—in Kogan’s words—“the glory days of alcoholic journalists.” The evening also marks the launch of Lane’s book, Saloon Society Chicago Style, a compendium of photos from the exhibit and additional images from his archives. In his artists’ statement, Lane says, “I was fortunate to have been part of it, lucky to have survived it.”
Where to stay and eat: For bed-and-breakfast lodging, try the Hutchinson Mansion Inn (220 W. 10th St., Michigan City; 219-879-1700; hutchinsonmansioninn.com), roughly half a mile from the Lubeznik Center and about 10 blocks from Lake Michigan; rates range from $105 to $175. If you want a casino in your hotel, head for the Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Spa (777 Blue Chip Dr., Michigan City; 219-879-7711, bluechipcasino.com); rates start at around $72.
For locally sourced fine dining, head for Kelly’s Table (inside the Creekwood Inn at 5727 N. 600 West, Michigan City; 219-872-5624, kellyscreekwood.com). For the best hamburger in the area, stop at Swingbelly’s, (100 Washington St., Michigan City; 219-874-5718). For a neighborhood bar of good beer and high spirits, McGinnis Pub (227 W. 7th, Michigan City; 219-872-8200, mcginnispub.com) will do the trick.
GO Untapped, Saloon Society Panel Discussion with Chicago Tribune reporter Rick Kogan and photographer Jack Lane, at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts (101 W. 2nd St., Michigan City) from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, November 19th. Free; through February 13th. For more information, go to lubeznikcenter.org or call 219-874-4900.
Photograph: Jack Lane/courtesy of the Lubeznik Center for the Arts