Situated in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, opened in 1907 as a beer garden named Pop Morris’s Garden. Tom Chamales purchased the bar in 1910, expanding the structure, adding live entertainment, and renaming the establishment the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. Since then the lounge has become a popular jazz venue. During Prohibition, the Green Mill remained open as a speakeasy and gained a reputation as a gangster hangout favored by Al Capone.
Considered the birthplace of the slam movement in the U.S., the Green Mill has been a fixture of the slam scene for almost two decades. In 1985, Marc Smith launched a reading series at the Get Me High Lounge, another Chicago jazz club. A year later, he relocated the series to the Green Mill and named it the Uptown Poetry Slam. The first slam took place on July 25, 1986, and has been a weekly feature at the lounge ever since.
The Uptown Poetry Slam presents guest performers from around the country, an open mike for newcomers, and a slam competition, all for a mere five-dollar cover charge. Between two to eight poets vie for the top slot in the slam competition each week and three audience members serve as judges. The poets go head to head in a series of readings until the judges determine a winner. The winning poet has a choice of two prizes: ten dollars or the Big John Scam: five lottery tickets.
The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge is located at 4802 North Broadway, at the corner of West Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. For those unable to experience a night at the Green Mill in person, Poetrypoetry.com, a website dedicated to audio poetry, has a recording of an Uptown Poetry Slam from June 2001. The recording includes readings by Marc Smith and that night’s featured poet, Taylor Mali, in addition to the open mike session and the slam competition.