Saloon Culture Essay

1449 words - 6 pages

Saloon Culture

     Royal Melendy writes about a rising social culture taking place at the turn of the twentieth century. He depicts this culture as the ambiance emitted in early Chicago saloons. “Saloons served many roles for the working-class during this period of American history, and were labeled as the poor man’s social clubs” (summary of saloon culture, pg. 76).
     Saloons were described as part of the neighborhood. An institution recognized and familiar to its people. Many laws restricted their services; however, they continued to exist. The article talks about two types of saloons. The first being the more upscale in downtown districts. These would close around midnight not in accordance to law, but demand. The other type Melendy calls “saloons [of] workingmen’s districts” (Melendy, pg. 77). He illustrates these clubs as home away from home. They supplied the basis of food supply for those whose home was in the street or for those residents of cheap lodging establishments. It is even stated that many saloons provided free lunches.
     The article discusses the need for these early Chicago saloons as a neighborhood commune for those men who labor long hours only to come home to poverty and despair of a desolate household. Melendy focuses on the mental, physiological, and moral nature of these workingmen. He points out that this saloon culture allows it’s patrons to develop these traits by interacting with their peers—others facing the same despair. These establishments are described as the “workingman’s school. He is both scholar and teacher” (Melendy pg. 78). Patrons gather at the bar, around tables and in the next room amongst games of pool, cards, and darts to discuss political and social problems, sporting news, and other neighborhood gossip. Here men, native and immigrant, exchange opinions and views of patriotism, brotherhood, and lessons in civil government. Melendy describes this atmosphere as cosmopolitan, and articulates that these businesses advertise this issue in their names. For example one of the downtown saloons was entitled “Everybody’s Exchange.” The saloon’s customers experienced a buffet of nationalities upon which was not so for those of poverty in previous decades. Saloons also served as disguises of corruption as Melendy illustrates by declaring “they learn their lessons in corruption and vice. It is their school for good and evil” (Melendy, pg. 78). The article also describes saloons as a meeting place for musical practice, fraternal organizations, political meetings, and celebrations such as anniversaries and wedding receptions. As published in A Millennium Biography, Chicago in 1900:
Interior of an 1890’s South Side Saloon from: History of Chicago and Souvenir of the Liquor Interest...p.145
Taverns were not all dens of vice and iniquity. In 1900 Chicago had 6,395 licensed retail saloons. Many had accommodations for dancing parties...

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