Saturday, August 30, 2008
"Big Jim" Colosimo, the first of the great Chicago gangsters, operated a cafe here on the west side of Wabash Ave., between 21st and 22nd streets. Big Jim ruled the underworld for longer than any other single man, including Al Capone, from the mid 1890s until his death in 1920. He owned two brothels and was known to operate a white slavery ring, kidnapping women and forcing them into prostitution. The ring was associated commercially with similar rings in New York, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, and is thought to have imported over 200 girls into Chicago, selling them for between $10 and $150 to Levee brothels. His cafe was the recognized social and political power center of the Levee, where aldermen, vice lords, and other powerful community members met and divvied out the spoils of the "contributions" made by First Ward business owners for protection.
It was Colosimo who invited Johnny Torrio, a gangster from Brooklyn, to come to Chicago and join his enterprise, in 1908. On May 11, 1920, Colosimo was assassinated here at his Cafe. The crime was never solved, but many believe Torrio ordered the hit in order to consolidate power over Colosimo's gang, in which he had risen to be the number two man. Frankie Yale, an associate of Torrio's from New York and head of the Unione Siciliane there, is the most likely gunman.
After Colosimo's death, his heirs sold their interest in the cafe to the restaurant manager, Michael Potson, who continued to run the restaurant successfully into the 1940s, when he was first sued by the famous comedy duo, Abbott and Costello over a gambling dispute, then indicted for gambling by the FBI. The cafe was seriously damaged in a fire during 1953, after which a Church of Divine Science congregation renovated the building and held services for several years, until 1958. In that year, the city condemned the property and destroyed it.
Today, the location of Colosimo's Cafe is occupied by "Tommy Gun's Garage," a gangster-themed restaurant and show where you can order "Big Jim's Lasagna" as an entree.