Shootout at the Northern Lights

Dorothy Kester, showgirl at the Northern Lights.

During Prohibition, Chicago was filled with mob-driven violence.  No one was exempt from getting in the line of fire, including Club Alabam founder Dan Blanco.

In 1924, Blanco was the proprietor of a Chicago roadhouse called Northern Lights, a “gangster friendly” café. One muggy summer night it became a crime scene.

Johnny Phillips, a classic puck, roughed up one of the showgirls, Dorothy Kester. The police were summoned.  Shooting ensued.  Phillips was killed and a policeman injured.

None of this was good for business and the officials put a padlock on Northern Lights. Remarkably, Dan Blanco escaped with his reputation intact.

Eager to read the full story?  It’s detailed in my newest book, The Blackest Sheep.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Evelyn Nesbit Wows Chicago

Moulin Rouge Café.  416 South Wabash Ave. Courtesy Chicago Tribune.

 In 1925, Stage Manager Dan Blanco took a chance on hiring the volatile Evelyn Nesbit as the star attraction at Bill Rothstein’s Moulin Rouge Café.

Newspaper advertisements warned that this engagement was “Positively Miss Nesbit’s Last Public Appearance,” which was far from the truth but may have attracted crowds. It was quickly apparent that Bill Rothstein had a sensational hit on his hands.

In her cabaret act, Evelyn wore striking black and white gowns. She no longer danced professionally (as she had in vaudeville). Instead, songs filled her act. The cabaret pace was perfect for a middle-aged mother.

During her appearance at the Moulin Rouge, Dan Blanco and Evelyn Nesbit would cement a long-lasting relationship and, within a few years, she would grace the stage at his new establishment, Rush Street’s Club Alabam.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

King of the Mafia

In 1910, Dan Blanco and his Rathskellerians made headlines with a pastiche of Italian opera called “King of the Mafia.”  This musical treat gained popularity at White City amusement park.  The sketch opened with these bold lines:

I am the king of the Mafia,

When I get mad I get daffia;

I sink a stiletto right into your back,

If I don’t I’m a son of a gun.

For decades, Club Alabam founder Dan Blanco would maintain friendly relations with Chicago’s gangsters, skirting Chicago’s vice laws before, during, and after Prohibition. Rubbing shoulders with the criminal element went with the territory and gunplay (if not stilettos) sometimes ended in violent death.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

White City

Chicago’s White City.

Located at 63rd Street and South Park Avenue on Chicago’s South Side, White City employed hundreds of entertainers, including Dan Blanco, founder of Rush Street’s Club Alabam.

The $1,000,000 pleasure park opened on May 27, 1905, proving a perfect venue for Dan Blanco and his troupe of “Rathskellerians.”  They played the park’s Rathskeller for many summers and, years later, Dan Blanco continue to hire his musical friends at Club Alabam.

White City’s diverse programing included a band concert, gondola rides, a fire show (a three hundred  foot street scene, complete with police, pedestrians, and a burning building, ultimately saved by men from three fire companies!), and thrill rides that “bumped the bump.” The famous and novel infant incubators, fresh from the Saint Louis World’s Fair, were on display. Midget City was a popular feature. There was a photograph gallery, an observation wheel, and a ballroom ready to accommodate 2,400 eager dancers.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Chicago’s Novelty Night Club: Club Alabam

In 1927, when Dan Blanco opened Club Alabam at 747 Rush Street in downtown Chicago, the Roaring Twenties were going strong and Prohibition still gripped the nation. Establishing a new cabaret-style nightclub without the ability to serve legal liquor was a risky move. Dan Blanco, however, was a seasoned showman who had worked steadily in saloons, amusement parks, cabarets, and on the vaudeville stage. He had mounted shows at the popular Moulin Rouge Café, located in the Loop, and had operated a notorious roadhouse called Northern Lights, frequented by Chicago’s criminal element.

Blanco was connected to the best talent in town and staged popular entertainment night after night at Club Alabam. He offered good food at reasonable prices. And, while Prohibition was still in force, there was a relaxed attitude about liquor. His headwaiter and eventual partner was my great uncle, the effervescent Gene Harris. Together, their personalities made the nightclub a Rush Street institution.

My new book, The Blackest Sheep, tells how these two men managed to juggle the law and booze-selling gangsters. Life on the margins of respectable society could be thrilling as well as dangerous!

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Dan Blanco: Founder of Chicago’s Club Alabam

Dan Blanco, Center.

Dan Blanco, founder of Chicago’s Club Alabam, was born Daniel Leblang on January 3, 1877, in Mazatlán, Mexico. As a small child, he immigrated with his parents to the U.S. and was naturalized when his father became a citizen in about 1885. A performer, songwriter, satirist, and cabaret host, coming of age at the turn of the twentieth century, Blanco headed an act inspired by French and German cabaret. Ragtime, Honky Tonk, and syncopated rhythms were all the rage and Blanco’s shows pushed the limits of “respectable” middle class entertainment.

During the 1910s, Blanco and his group of “Rathskellerians,” became a longtime favorite act at White City, one of Chicago’s most successful amusement parks. The Rathskeller at White City would be Blanco’s testing ground for new material, where he and his players charmed Midwestern audiences with their titillating songs while mingling with the customers in an intimate setting.

After working in many saloons, cabarets, and nightclubs across Chicago, in 1927, Dan Blanco opened Club Alabam at 747 Rush Street.  A popular nightspot for decades, it was destined to become a Chicago favorite where locals and “visiting firemen” could relax, enjoy good food, song and dance performed by solid talent, and, occasionally, some illicit gambling.

In my new book, The Blackest Sheep, the easy-going Dan Blanco is rediscovered and regains his rightful place in Chicago’s entertainment history.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.