Monday, January 5, 2009

Hinky Dink's Place

Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna opened his first saloon at this location, 105 W. Van Buren (then 120 W. Van Buren) in 1881. He used the position to move into gambling, protection rackets, and politics. He was elected Alderman for the 1st Ward in 1897, a position he held until 1923, when he retired to become ward Committeeman, a position he kept until his death in 1946.

Kenna grew up on Chicago's west side, and earned the label "Hinky Dink" for his short stature -- he was only 5'1" tall, but tougher than most men a foot taller than him. After a adventure to the American West during the mining boom, Kenna earned enough money to buy a tiny, 5'x8' room here, which he operated as a crude saloon. He came to be known as a friend to those who needed cash for bail, an occupation that put him into contact with "a class of men who are extremely useful at primaries, in conventions, and at elections", as the Tribune put it.

Over time, Kenna opened up the second floor of his saloon as a gambling house, and despite some harassment from the police, his political power grew until he could operate unmolested. He expanded the bar, and started serving higher quality drinks, which attracted the patronage of some of the city's power elite. He changed the name of the saloon to the more rarefied "M. Kenna's Sample Room."

In 1895, he first ran for Alderman, losing to the Republican nominee, but he returned to win in 1897. Together with John "Bathhouse" Coughlin, he presided over Custom House Place, and later, the 22nd street Levee district, collecting protection money and allowing those businesses that paid to stay in business.

Upon Kenna's death, he left over $1,000,000 to his heirs.

The location of Hinky Dink's Place is still a bar, the Sky Ride Tap, which the Sun-Times describes as a "little-known but comfortable dive where day traders rub elbows with construction workers."


Anonymous said...

Great site you have here (found it via Coudal). Lords of the Levee, the definitive book on the heyday of Kenna and Bathhouse John Coughlin, indicates that Kenna later had two bars (one of them being his legendary Workingmans Exchange) just east of here, on Clark south of Van Buren. If the map in the book is accurate, the second bar was on the east side of Clark, where the Metropolitan Correctional Center is now - very appropriate, given Kenna's extensive illegal pastimes.

Kendall said...


I have a photo of the Workingman's in the hopper, so it will appear here in the near future. And I have plenty more to do on both Kenna and Coughlin, so stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

Incorrect. Kenna's tavern was around the corner where the currency exchange is today.

Kendall said...

You're thinking of the Workingman's Exchange, Kenna's later saloon and political headquarters.

This is the site of Kenna's first bar, Hinky Dink's Place.

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Kenna James said...

Who were Hink Dink Kenna's heirs?

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