The Green Mill cocktail lounge is an overlooked treasure buried within Chicago's rundown Uptown neighborhood. A notorious hot spot during the Prohibition era, it maintains an inconspicuous vibe with the shadowy interior lighting, doors in the floorboards, and deep seating that allows for one to go easily unnoticed. With a Hammond organ behind the horseshoe bar waiting to be played, the hideaway is the the kind of place where if you have to ask, you probably don't belong.
But the secret it out: while The Green Mill is known for being a premier jazz club and time capsule of the roarin' Twenties, it's better known for its 4am closing hour (5am on Saturday nights) to many out-of-towners, partiers, and weary travelers. As one walks through the front door, he steps into a foggy dream with a sizzling hi-hat as its soundtrack. The knock-out punches delivered from the snare drum create a familiar amnesia about who was really there and what really happened.
A stumble into the bathroom, tucked behind the stage, is a well-needed reality check. The tin-can pitstop is gritty, a single ivory bar sits in a soapy puddle on the sink next to the turnstile cloth towel hanging on the wall. The muffled sounds of papers turning bleed through the wall as the bandleader announces the next tune. The shotgun layout of the facility leads straight back to a broken stall door, worn out like an old pair of jeans. Above the wall urinal, the etching: "We aim to please, so please try to aim."
But it is in the graffiti where Chicago's own Hemingways, Salingers, and countless beatniks stashed their gold. The poetry of bathroom wisdom is in its brevity, the ability to get in and get out as quickly as possible, to leave your mark behind and exit with clean hands. Scratched into the swinging door are these brilliantly composed six words: "Be a writer, not a critic." Amongst the other shit that occupies the room, there exists an everlasting beauty that we must be keen enough not to overlook it.
Get the picture? Trombone Shorty reminds the listener to question their motivations. When it comes to playing music, is it for self-indulgence or is it meant to inspire others? There is a clear distinction between the two, so choose wisely.
Here is a YouTube video tour through the caverns of the Green Mill.
Recommended reading: Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. Published by Ballantine Books.