Construction of the new Albion tower at 1454 Sherman Ave., formerly the site of Tommy Nevin’s Pub, took an interesting twist when steam shovels struck an unexpected structure toward the north end of the lot. Further investigation revealed what appears to be a secret room, suspected to be a former speakeasy tied to the Roaring 20s days and invoking names such as Dillinger and Capone. As the details come to light, it is becoming apparent that the discovery holds more secrets than old security bonds.
Construction workers found not just a room and a door, but the beginnings of an immense concrete catacomb, the entrance to which lay beneath the foundation of the former Nevin’s building. It extends east from Sherman toward the lake, and the RoundTable has learned it was once a speakeasy that was owned and operated by a highly secretive gang of North Shore mobsters Bobby “Book Face” Scalapini, Patsy “The Pick” Mehan and Nick “The Shrimp” Magumbo, just to name a few heavy hitters.
Although the exact dates of operation are sketchy at best, it is believed that access to the speakeasy was gained through the gas station at the site, which was operated by legendary short change artist Jimmy “The Pump” Palooka. The service station operated as one would expect, but for those in the know, a separate entrance, known as “The Oil Can,” could be accessed through the oil-change pit. Thrill-seeking patrons and good-timers were told to pull up to the pumps at the station, whereupon the dapper attendant would ask what kind of service was needed. “Ultra-premium gas,” and “full service” were the code words for entrance. The wide-eyed pleasure seekers would pull into the garage, where they would be hoisted down, fire-pole style, into a secret tunnel that lead to the party.
Historian Laphonse Bittermint hailed the discovery as one closing a loop long suspected, but until now unproven, tying the legendary Chicago outfits to a quieter but no less lethal group of North Shore baddies. “We always wondered where they gathered,” said Dr. Bittermint. “I never would have suspected the Nevin’s location because, as you know, it was a gas station. I am so thrilled to have found this! I can’t wait until we have a chance to get in there.”
Developers have preserved the underground cavern for now, but the historians must wait until construction has finished to gain access. “We can’t just halt the entire construction process for another ‘Geraldo’ type event,” said job foreman Equinimious Bluto. “We have sealed it off and no damage will come of it. Hey, the new restaurant, when it comes in, might be able to use the space as part of their business.”
“Indeed, this is the one Geraldo was looking for,” said Dr. Bittermint, referring to the ill-fated nationally televised expose Mr. Rivera attempted in 1986. “I doubt anyone has the stomach for another live event, though I have been told several local outlets wish to be there. What is intriguing, though, is how much information we have been able to uncover without even getting in. Access, for example.”
A picture on the wall…
In the wake of the 2017 ransacking of Tommy Nevin’s days after its closing, a number of items and assorted bric-a-brac were pirated off the walls by a Coors-Light-fueled mob of Northwestern rabble-rousers.
Among the items looted was a curious picture of an old man. It was eventually returned by an anonymous undergraduate with a guilty conscience. There was something odd, haunting about the photo in the frame. “I just thought it was some junk novelty picture of an old guy holding a violin case. It was weird, but cool,” says the former student, who asked not to be named because of the criminal nature of his endeavors. “We hung it up and he became our mascot for the frat house.”
“As it turns out, the ‘musician’ in the picture, could play a jig, but it would be your last,” said Dr. Bittermint, with a chuckle. Hidden beneath the decoy of the fiddle case was a Chicago Typewriter, or a Tommy Gun, he added. “The man in the photograph is notorious prohibition era hit man, Vinnie ‘The Violin’ Vinuchi.”
“Yeah, we found that picture in the basement when we opened the bar in the 70s,” said former Nevin’s bar manager and long-time door guy Joe Vino. “It was covered in a bed of dust next to a box of old records hanging in a back store room. When we took the picture down, we saw a hidden door with a big padlock on it, we just figured it went to the sewers and left it alone.” In fact, historians now suspect this is not only the entrance to the speakeasy, but likely also led to an underground tunnel connecting the speakeasy to the hotel across Sherman to the east.
Photographs found inside security deposit boxes within the vault reveal a lush world of luxury and mob decadence that was Nevin’s before Nevin’s. Chicago Historical Photographic Society head honcho Freddy Frangelico confirms the details. “We never knew where the speakeasy in these pictures was, and still can’t be sure. But I’d be willing to bet it’s the Nevin’s Noob,” he said, using the nickname historians have attached to the find.
The pictures show glistening arrays of diamond chandeliers, gilded ceilings, carved jade statuettes amid pearl fountains and lush coral mosaics hanging from the ceilings of the Nevin’s Noob. A veritable Xanadu, replete with ferns as high as the ceiling and an enclosure featuring live peacocks and what appeared to be captive live alligators.
In the shadow of this once resplendent chamber of opulence, the former site of Nevin’s was also an after-hours haven for which notorious North side kingpins of bootlegging would come after long nights to deposit cash in the “Gangster vault” and then hang around to party and discuss business – and sample some of their supply, mused a clearly delighted Dr. Bittermint.
Whether the Gangster Vault remains in the enclosure is a question awaiting answer. Mr. Bluto said the structure above will be sufficiently complete to allow access to properly safety-suited historians on April 1, 2019.