Dil Pickle Club
The Dil Pickle Club or Dill Pickle Club was once a popular Bohemian club in Chicago, Illinois between 1917 and 1935. The Dil Pickle was known as a speakeasy, cabaret and theatre and was influential during the "Chicago Renaissance" as it allowed a forum for free thinkers. It was founded and owned by Wobbly John "Jack" Jones and was frequented by popular American authors, activists and speakers.
The club's legacy has seen several reincarnations, including the revived Chicago Dil Pickle Club, the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, Dil Pickle Press, and the Dill Pickle Club of Portland, OR, "an experimental forum for critiquing contemporary culture, politics and humanities."
In 1914, John "Jack" Jones, a former organizer for the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)) had started several weekly forums at the Radical Book Shop on North Clark Street in Chicago. The forums discussed labor issues along with social concerns of the day. Soon, in early 1915, Jones needed a new venue as the capacity was exceeded at the forum. To accommodate increased participants, Jones found a decrepit barn on Tooker Alley, off of Dearborn Street in downtown Chicago that he would name the Dil Pickle Club. Soon after, fellow labor organizer from Ireland, Jim Larkin would join Jones along with the "hobo doctor" and anarchist Ben Reitman. Reitman would be instrumental in getting regular news coverage of the Pickle in the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Tribune. The news coverage would help increase the clubs following and by 1917, Jones created the Dil Pickle Artisans by officially incorporating it as a non-profit in Illinois for its promotion of arts, crafts, science and literature.
Jones would say of his new club:
|“||The Dil Pickles was founded by several groups of people who were convinced that they, nor for that matter no other person or group knew all there was to be known about art, literature, drama, music, science, social or political economy or any other problems confronting or bothering the human race. The various groups responsible for the formation had one idea in mind: the thought that there should be some center where any idea or work would be given a respectful hearing and brought before the public, which in the last analysis are the best judges of what they want.||”|
During the early years of the Dil Pickle Club, Jones began the Dil Pickle Press which produced material to promote the club. The Dil Pickler newsletter, The Creative World bulletin along with Jones' book Tech-Up were printed. The Press also printed Arthur Desmond's Lion's Paw, Ragnar Redbeard's Might is Right along with works by Sol Omar and J. Edgar Miller. Most of the literature was often crudely designed but easily reproduced. It contained humor and often typos. Admission to the club and refreshment sales helped it survive financially. Jones may have also printed counterfeit out-of-print books in order to make additional money.
The club would reach its pinnacle by not only serving as a place for debate and idea-sharing but a host for one-act plays, poetry readings, jazz dances, opera along with other acts. The Dil Pickle Players was formed in order to perform original works by local authors as well as contemporary playwrights. Jones was often very active in the club; building the stage, wiring the lighting along with writing, directing and acting in productions.
During the Great Depression, the Dil Pickle Club began to experience its decline. By the early 1930s, the club was being frequented more by Chicago mobsters rather than the usual free-minded Bohemian attendees. Soon the club would lose its unique taste and personality as rent rates in Chicago were rising. Tax difficulties in 1933 would be the end of the Dil Pickle Club. Despite Jones' efforts to save the club - which included the sale of the wooden Du Dil Duck toy - the Dil Pickle Club closed in 1934. Jones struggled financially thereafter until his death in 1940.
The Dil Pickle Club was almost hidden from the outside and was considered a "hole in the wall" in Tooker Alley. The entrance was marked by a "DANGER" sign that which pointed to the orange main door which was lite by a green light. On the door, it read: “Step High, Stoop Low and Leave Your Dignity Outside.” Once inside, another sign read "Elevate Your Mind to a Lower Level of Thinking" before you entered the main part of the club. Immediately inside was a large main room with a stage. The room was decorated with brightly painted chairs and partially surrounded by counters where drinks and sandwiches were sold. The rest of the club was also decorated by its attendees and contained a tearoom and art exhibitions. Altogether, the club had reported standing capacity for 700 people.
The club was frequented by many radical American activists, political speakers and authors. Among the American activists and speakers was Clarence Darrow, Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, Hippolyte Havel, Lucy Parsons, Ben Reitman and Nina Spies. American authors included Pulitzer Prize winner Upton Sinclair along with Sherwood Anderson, Carl Sandburg, Ben Hecht, Vachel Lindsay, Djuna Barnes, William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth and Vincent Starrett. Other common attendees were poet, writer and Wobbly, Slim Brundage, speaker Martha Biegler, speaker Elizabeth Davis, Harry Wilson and F. M. Wilkesbarr.
A club for people with ideas and questions, it often attracted a mixed crowd. Scientists, panhandlers, prostitutes, socialists, anarchists, con men, tax advocates, religious zealots, social workers and hoboes were commonly at the club.
- Original Dil Pickle Club address: 10 Tooker Place, Chicago, Illinois
- Picture of Dil Pickle Club - Chicago Public Radio
- Dill Pickle Club Records at the Newberry Library
- Images from the Dill Pickle Club from the exhibition Outspoken: Chicago's Free Speech Tradition