Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chapin and Gore: Kings of the Chicago Saloon

 Writer George Ade, who spent a decade working on newspapers in Chicago, claimed in his book,  “The Old Time Saloon” that the Windy City’s drinking establishments ranked with those of Port Said and Singapore as being the wildest and wickedness ever.  “Chicago was just as tough as it knew how to be....Saloons were everywhere, many of them open all night and all day Sunday.”

According to Ade, it was commonly stated that when a new drink parlor opened anywhere in
Gore
Chapin
Chicago’s Loop, the saloon keeper threw the keys to the place in Lake Michigan.  “The famous hangouts had not been closed for a minute for years and years,”  he claimed.  Perhaps the most famous of all the city’s saloons was the one founded by Gardner Spring Chapin and James Jefferson Gore whose “Chapin & Gore” partnership led them to the pinnacle of Chicago fame.

Their story began inauspiciously in the early 1850s.   Born in Georgia,  Gore at the age of 19,  by his own later account,  had driven a team from Texas to California overland and then “because of his love of adventure” had joined the Forty-Niners prospecting for gold.  His biography says:  “It was the day of the six-shooter, the quick draw, and the steady eye and hand, when he was learning his apprenticeship and learning the ways of the world....”  Eventually Gore drifted into the life of a teamster,  driving a team of mules and hauling freight to Nevada.   An illustration in the biography romanticized Gore's occupation.

In reality,  when Chapin, a broker in mining stocks, met Gore,  the latter was sick and broke.  He asked Chapin for the loan of $200 so he could continue to his destination.  Impressed with the younger man’s personality and despite that being a large amount of money at the time, Chapin loaned him the cash and thereby began a lifetime friendship.  From Chapin’s “grubstake,”  Gore prospered and eventually relocated in Chicago.  Meanwhile Chapin moved to Fairbault,  Minnesota, where he opened a dry goods store.  When business there proved to be poor,  he moved to Chicago and opened a modest grocery on Madison Street.   Remembering Chapin’s kindness,  Gore sought him out and suggested they go into business together. 

The partners subsequently opened a grocery store in 1865 at the corner of State and Monroe Streets.  Gore convinced Chapin to add a liquor department and before long liquor  was their principal merchandise.  They put out a brand of their own which they called “1867 Sour Mash.”  That reportedly was the year they made liquor their prime enterprise. But it was the great Chicago Fire of 1871 that brought the pair to public notice. 

The Chicago public came to dote on the colorful Gore, known fondly as “Old Jim” because of his response to the conflagration.   To keep the stock of whiskey safe from flames and looters,  he hired men to roll barrels full of bourbon and rye -- some claim as many as several hundred kegs -- into Lake Michigan.  While some was diverted, many reached the water to be recovered later.  Chicago newspapers headlined the story.  Chapin & Gore advertised this whiskey as “fine as silk” and sold it for an inflated price as “Lake Whiskey.”

So popular was their liquor that the partners eventually opened seven retail outlets in downtown Chicago.  They decorated them with large colorful cartoon caricatures of famous personages.  Chapin & Gore also opened a saloon they called Chapin & Gore’s Cafe.  Chicago historian Stephen Longstreet says that this drinking establishment featured good food and had a reputation for being “high toned.”  Illustrious patrons included William McKinley, later to be elected President,  Author Mark Twain, and “Buffalo Bill” Cody.  Of Cody it was said he could always be found where there were good listeners and, more important, good whiskey.   Chapin & Gore’s liquor was so good it began to attract a national audience to its brands which included “1867” and “Old Jim Gore,” which the firm trademarked in 1904.  The partners eventually acquired their own Kentucky distillery near Cloverport in Breckinridge County.  They opened branch offices in Kansas City,  Indianapolis and even Paris, France.

Chapin & Gore also became known for the design of their whiskey containers.  Bottle collectors are familiar with their several very attractive versions of a glass amber barrel-shaped bottle.  Those are attributed to the Frankstown Glassworks and later the Hawley Glass Company, both of Pennsylvania.  Also shown here are examples of the firm’s straight quart bottles and embossed flasks.   Other containers were ceramic including a jug with a gold lip and label with an overprint of a cobalt “1867.”   Another two-handled jug design replicated a Greek amphora and featured a flared lip.  The partners also issued an   molded and embossed ten-sided shot glass.

Another part of the enduring Chapin & Gore legacy is a building that their firm  commissioned and still bears their name.  Located at 63 East Adams the 1904 structure combined warehouse and office space with a street-level liquor store and bar.  Hired for the design were noted Chicago architects Richard Schmidt and his partner Hugh Garden.  According to one commentary, the pair demonstrated through this facility, “the aesthetic possibilities of the utilitarian building through the use of interior functions, fine brickwork and decorative terra cotta.” In 1998 the building received a facelift as ornamental cornices and capitals removed in the 1950s were restored.  The Chapin & Gore Building, shown here, has been designated a Chicago landmark, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is an established part of the city's architectural heritage walking tour.


After Jim Gore died in 1891, Chapin carried on and the firm’s ads continued to claim that Old Jim Gore Sour Mash Whiskey was “the best in the world.”  Chapin was forced to shut down all alcohol related aspects of the enterprise as a result of National Prohibition.   As a brand name, however, Chapin and Gore was revived after Repeal in 1934.  At first it was produced by the National Distillers Corporation of Louisville which had nearly 140 brand names under its control.  Subsequently it was sold to one of the Bardstown distilleries which produced it under the somewhat misleading label:  “Distilled by Chapin and Gore.”













20 comments:

  1. Great treatment of an interesting piece of bourbon history- thank you!

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  2. Thanks, Seth. As an addendum, there are two adjacent streets in Sanibel Island, Florida, one named "Chapin" and the other "Gore." My assumption, unverified, is that the partners may have spent some time in that part of Florida. Or it could be that the developer was a fan of their whiskey.

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  3. Hey Jack,
    My great grandfather worked as a distiller in Bardstown, KY in the 1960's...I have several bottles of Chapin and Gore bourbon. I've been trying to find more info about the distillery and the details of the production. Your last paragraph in this article mentions that it was sold to one of the Bardstown distilleries. Do you have any more info on that? I believe it was "Dant" distillery he worked for or something like that....thanks

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  4. Dear Reid: Since I do not trace brand names after Repeal, I personally not able to answer your questions. But I did find on the Internet this information, to which I cannot attest, but is my best shot:

    "It probably was made when Schenley still owned the Fairfield Distillery, which was in Bardstown, not Fairfield. The warehouses are still standing, owned by Heaven Hill. For those of you who know Bardstown, it is located where the railroad tracks cross Bloomfield Road northeast of downtown. Schenley also owned what is now Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and, presumably, they had bottling at both. Schenley bought Fairfield from McKesson Robbins in 1945. Schenley also bought the Chapin & Gore brands from McKesson, possibly at that same time. Distilling stopped there in 1955 but they may have kept bottling the contents of the warehouses for a few years after that. When the warehouses were empty, they sold it to Heaven Hill, which refilled the warehouses and tore down everything else. I suspect this was the first bunch of off-site warehouses Heaven Hill bought, because it is the closest one to the main campus."

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  5. Your blog is very nice and information you provided really cool.
    Chicago Warehouse

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    1. Dear Julia: Thanks for your kind comments about my post on Chapin and Gore -- two of my favorite whiskey men. The American Author Theodore Dreiser in his novel, "Sister Carrie" mentions them and their Chicago establishment. One of the major characters is said to work for them. All the best. Jack

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  6. Lovely blog i just survey web sites but your blog is so good it just great enough informative for people. I like it.
    Chicago Silliker Certified

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    1. Dear Divent x 2: Glad you like the blog. It has been fun to do and I hope to keep at it for a while. There are a lot of interesting "whiskey men" out there still to profile. Jack

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  7. I really enjoy information provided in this post.
    Chicago Silliker Certified

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    1. Thank you Julia. I urged you to hunt up the other Chicago "whiskey men" featured on this blog. Many interesting stories. Jack

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  8. Where can this whisky be purchased

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  9. Walter: Chapin & Gore whiskey, although some was made under this label after the end of Prohibition, has not been a produced brand for many years.
    It is not possible to purchase the product today on the market. Jack

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  10. I have a 50+ year old bottle of unopened C&G Old Reserve. How can I determine the exact age and value?

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  11. Dear Ronda: What a great find! Two courses of action: 1) advertise it as you have to me in Chicago asking for "best offer." 2) Drinking the whiskey with friends and family yourself. It should be perfectly fine. Then sell the bottle on eBay. It will not fetch much but you will have a great experience.

    Without seeing the bottle itself it is difficult to make an assessment. Jack

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  12. Whoever stated that Chapin & Gore can no longer be purchased, is in error. The bourbon is a rather popular brand in St. Louis, if no longer in Chicago and is readily available in the Gateway City, even sold in some super markets there. I've just checked the label & alas it states that the bourbon was produced by Chapin & Gore Distillery but it is obviously bottled by some other source in Bardstown, Ky.

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  13. Thanks, Bill for this information. My understanding had been that the label was dormant. Good to know it is able to be purchased in St. Louis. If it is being bottled in Bardstown, it likely is the Heaven Hill Distillery that seems to own the rights to dozens of brand names. Jack

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  14. Chapin & Gore has its own Facebook page. You should check that out!

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  15. Dear Curious: Thanks for the heads-up on the C & G Facebook page. I am not on Facebook but my electronics era wife is and I shall take a look. Their whiskey is back on the market in some locales, I understand. Jack

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  16. Can you tell me something about that Chapin and Gore glass pictured? Is it a shot glass or a rocks glass?

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  17. Dear Brooks: According to the source of the glass, it is a shot glass. It is described as molded, thick walled, just under two inches in height and 1 and 7/16 at the base. Hope this is helpful.

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