FEBRUARY 1, 1900


Louise Kiernan, Tribune staff. Reprinted from "Chicago Days: 150 Defining Moments in the Life of a Great City," edited by Stevenson Swanson, Contemporary Books.
Published: Tuesday, April 1, 1997
Page: 2

Behind the doors of the twin brownstones at 2131-33 S. Dearborn St., Minna Everleigh gave her final instructions: "You have the whole night before you and one $50 client is more desirable than five $10 ones. Less wear and tear," she told the women assembled before her.

With that, Minna and her older sister, Ada, opened what would become the best little bordello in Chicago and, for a time, one of the best known in the world.

Minna and Ada Everleigh, then 21 and 23, took their name from their grandmother's habit of signing her letters "Everly Yours." Raised in a prosperous Southern family, the sisters fled bad marriages to become touring actresses and ended up in Chicago after running a bagnio in Omaha during the Trans-Mississippi Exposition.

Amid the grimier brothels of the Levee, Chicago's notorious vice district, the Everleigh Club sparkled like one of Minna's many diamond pins. The Tribune described the 50-room mansion as the world's most richly furnished house of courtesans. Guests were entertained in opulent parlors, among them the Gold Room, which featured gold-rimmed fishbowls, gold spittoons and a miniature gold piano, and the Chinese Room, where gentlemen could set off tiny firecrackers.

In an era when a beer cost a nickel, the Everleigh sisters charged $12 for a bottle of champagne. Dinners started at $50 a person--without female company. Gentlemen who left without spending at least $50 were advised not to return. Exempt from that rule were newspapermen, for whom the sisters professed a soft spot. If Tribune overnight clerks needed to round up reporters quickly, they were told to call Calumet 412, the club's famed telephone number.

Thanks to the protection money the sisters gave police and aldermen, the Everleigh Club operated freely. But its extraordinary success eventually led to its downfall. A brochure advertising the club fell into the hands of Mayor Carter Harrison Jr., and on Oct. 24, 1911, he ordered it shut down.

The sisters left with more than $1 million in cash, jewelry, stocks and bonds. Ada and Minna resettled on the West Side, but neighbors drove them out. They moved to New York City, and there they led quiet lives under assumed names and started a neighborhood poetry circle.

After Minna died in 1948, Ada sold off most of their belongings, including the gold piano, and moved to Virginia. She died in 1960, at 93.


Lisbeth Levine. Compiled by Leigh Behrens.
Published: Sunday, February 23, 1997
Page: 6

Back at the turn of the century, the country's finest bordellos offered more than just the expected fare. Some were renowned almost as much for their 14-course gourmet meals as for their other divertissements.

Chicago's famed Everleigh Club, at 2131 S. Dearborn St., employed a Cordon Bleu chef for its parties and anywhere from 15 to 25 cooks in its 24-hour kitchen. The food was no loss leader--in 1900, dinner started at $50, about the same price as an intimate interlude.

"It was said that a lot of men went to the Everleigh Club for the food alone," says Jo Foxworth, who was inspired by the link between sex and food to write The Bordello Cookbook (Moyer Bell, $24.95).

The book, dedicated to Minna and Ada Everleigh, serves up tidbits about some of America's most famous madams in food-friendly cities from New Orleans to San Francisco to, of course, Chicago. Each profile is accompanied by Jeanne Bauer's recipes, including chicken breasts with "shimmy sauce" and oyster appetizers.

Foxworth, who runs her own ad agency in New York, became an ardent admirer of turn-of-the-century madams while researching three previous books on women in the business world. In that era, one of the only professions open to enterprising females was the world's oldest.

"They were the first successful American businesswomen," says Foxworth. "Most of the ones I wrote about, including the Everleighs, became millionaires."


Copyright 2000, The Tribune Company. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. The Tribune Company archives are stored on a SAVE (tm) newspaper library system from MediaStream, Inc., a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.