July 12, 2011

Lawrence and Kenmore and Part Time Bootlegging

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

About 1949, I was lucky enough to land a job at Gary's Payless Drug Store that was in Wilton Hotel, which was known earlier as the Viceroy Hotel and was situated on the S.W. corner of Lawrence and Kenmore, just kittycorner from the New Lawrence Hotel.

My friend Bobby Johnston was moving away and he recommended me to Gary the Pharmacist. The job was to keep the coolers filled with beer and pop, sweep up, take orders, and make deliveries. I remember they sold a lot of Rhiengold, Tavern Pale, Fox Deluxe beer, and Ballantine Ale.

Now, concerning the deliveries, it was illegal for a minor to handle or deliver alcohol. So, I had to carry $2.00 in my back pocket, and If I was stopped by the cops I was to tell them that "some guy" I never seen before gave me the two dollars to make the delivery.

I made a lot of deliveries in the area and the tips were pretty good, except when I delivered to the 910 Lawrence Building, they had a doorman who wouldn't let me inside; he would take the package up to the apartment, collect, then give me the proper change. He kept the tips.

One day I made a delivery and told the doorman that the customer had to sign for their prescription. He let me in, delivered the package, and told the customer that the doorman was taking the tips. I got a good tip and he got in trouble.

One day I was near the phone and no one was around. I took an order for a bottle of gin and some 7-up.
The customer told me to bring change for a twenty. I put the bottles in a bag, found Gary the druggist and explained the situation to him. He thanked me for being such a conciseness kid and I made the delivery and brought him the change.

One day, one of the older boys in the neighborhood wanted to know if I knew an old "Muskhead" that could get him some beer. I said sure, I can get you the beer, and I would even deliver it. Now, I could get 5 quarts of Prima Pilsner beer for a $ 1.25, a 5th of Guckenheimer whiskey was $1.98.

I would take orders from some friends I knew, making a modest markup, and life was good.

A Muskhead was a guy who only drank "Muscatel" or 'Muskiedoodle," as we called it those days. Those who drank Port wine were just plain old winos.There was always a couple of winos hanging out on the corner they could get us anything we wanted, for a price.

Well, I put them out of business.

Bill Matteson


old guy said...

Hey bill, your bootlegging story brought back some memories. When I was about 17 or 18 yesrs old some friends and I were going to head up north to Ardmore beach for a party and thought we'd pick up some booze first and in order to do that we had to find someone to buy it for us which usually meant finding a bum to do the purchasing.
We decided the best tavern to stand out in front of was this basement dive called the Hide-a-way on the south side of Montrose just east of Hazel. After about ten minutes this guy comes stumbling out and the first thing he says when he see's us is "stay away from me cuz I aint got no money and I'm dangerous". I told the guy we didn't want to roll him all we wanted was for him to buy us some stuff and we'd be willing to buy him a bottle for himself. That he said would be no problem since we were buying. We gave him our money and order which we kept simple considering his condition.
It was the usual stuff teenagers got at the time Boonesfarm, Ritchards wild Irish Rose and some half pints.
So he went back inside and we waited and waited, it took him about a half an hour to come back out with our stuff. we asked him what took so long and he said the guy would'nt sell it to him because he new it was for those kids outside and it took him that long to talk him into it. we knew he was giving a line and figured he got a couple of shots on our money and there was nothing we could about it so we went on our way.
When we got to Ardmore and passed the stuff out I could'nt believe what I saw and realized why it took so long to get our stuff.
He had opened up and drank just a little bit from each bottle. Its over 40 years since that happened and I'm still friends with those guys. When ever we get together and if we are talking about the uptown days it seems like only yesterday that we were eating burgers at Jake's pup in the Ruff
before going to a Cubs game or the the Uptown Theater.

bill Matteson said...


old guy said...

Hey Bill, you said it!
with all the garbage that went on sometimes I wonder where and when did things go right,
Then I remember. It was noon memorial day 1974 I was at a party sitting in my friends kitchen.
The back door opened and she walked in. My life changed forever.

bill Matteson said...

well 9 kids, 21 grandkids and 8 greatgrandkids later I'm lucky she still talks to me
and the only reason she does is shes an uptown girl herself


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