The Gold Star Sardine Bar nightclub was once a hub for Chicago glamour

The jazz club was built by a grocery store tycoon’s dreams of music and movie stars.

Sardine bar rerun thumb
Photo illustration by Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ
Sardine bar rerun thumb
Photo illustration by Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ

The Gold Star Sardine Bar nightclub was once a hub for Chicago glamour

The jazz club was built by a grocery store tycoon’s dreams of music and movie stars.

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On this week’s podcast episode we’re revisiting a couple of holiday classics. Reporter Monica Eng answers a question about a shuttered jazz bar on the ground floor of the historic 680 Lake Shore Drive building in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. A sign on one side of the door lists the names of jazz greats like Tony Bennett, Liza Minnelli, and Lionel Hampton. On the other, a gold lettered sign reads: The Gold Star Sardine Bar.

Dion McGill would pass by the old club as he headed into work. His co-workers said they’d had their office Christmas party there in the past. But nobody really knew much about the story behind the nightclub.

So he wrote in to Curious City asking:

What’s the history of the Gold Star Sardine Bar at 680 N. Lake Shore Drive?

Dion wanted to know what the club was like, if those famous artists listed on the sign outside had really played there, and why the club is now closed. The answers unearth a story about music, movie stars, and what happens when one man’s dream for bygone glamour is shattered by accusations of theft and fraud.

After she solves that mystery Monica introduces us to some of the people who help make sure Chicagoans can find a Christmas tree each year.

Gregg Arneson works construction in northern Wisconsin for most of the year. But for about a half century, he’s spent the holiday season in Chicago selling trees. Each year, Arneson pulls off his own version of the holiday hustle, spending long days driving between lots, stocking trees and helping with night deliveries.

And Ivy Speck is a Wrigleyville property owner who uses her lot at Roscoe and Sheffield for Cubs parking during baseball season. But come late November, she transforms it into a fragrant forest of Fraser firs called Ivy’s Christmas Trees.