Mickey Finn: Chicago's cocktail

December 16, 2011

If you are a sophisticated drinker, you know about the Manhattan. Obviously, that cocktail was invented in New York City. Here in Chicago we can lay claim to devising our own famous mixed drink.

In 1903 on this December 16th, the city was learning about the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden. This was one of the dives of Whiskey Row, on State Street near 11th. A little gnome ex-pickpocket named Mickey Finn owned the place. Today one of Finn's barmaids--Gold Tooth Mary Thornton--was testifying before a special commission.

Gold Tooth Mary said there was a sign at the Lone Star inviting customers to "Try a Mickey Finn Special." The sign did not mention the ingredients, and for good reason. The Special was a mixture of raw alcohol, snuff-soaked water, and a white liquid supplied by a voodoo doctor.

Anybody who drank this cocktail was knocked out cold. The victim was then dragged into a side room, where he was stored until Mickey got around to robbing him. After that he was dumped in the alley.

Mary and her colleagues got a percentage of Mickey's take. That was just as well, since their customers weren't in any condition to give the ladies a tip.

Mickey had all the angles covered. Some patrons would drink only beer, so he had another concoction called the "Number Two" that he poured into the beer. According to Mary, her boss had no fear of the police. Mickey boasted that he was in tight with Alderman Kenna, and that he always saved the best cigars for the local cops.

This time, friendship and smokes did him no good. Because of all the bad publicity, city officials revoked Mickey's liquor license.

Mickey thought he'd been given a bum deal. Gold Tooth Mary's story didn't make any sense. "I'd lose money feeding dope to the guys that blow in here," he claimed. "I wouldn't get enough money out of their clothes in a year to pay for the dope."

With the Lone Star closed, Mickey left Chicago. He later returned and operated another saloon. By that time his name was so notorious that he didn't dare try any funny business.

But Mickey had the last laugh. He sold his secret formula to a half-dozen other saloonkeepers, and from there it spread throughout America. Today any kind of knockout drink is still called a Mickey Finn.