Mar 25, 2024 - Things to Do

Mister Kelly's and glitz of '50s Rush Street revived at Newberry

Board with neon signs and old posters

Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

The famed Mister Kelly's nightclub may be long gone, but its spirit lives on a few blocks away in a new exhibit at the Newberry Library.

The big picture: "A Night at Mister Kelly's" shows off unique artifacts from the legendary Rush Street club, which hosted megastar entertainers like Barbra Streisand and Lenny Bruce until it closed in 1975.

ğŸ”Ž What to see: Posters, playbills and fantastic video showing the neon glow of Rush Street in the 1950s and '60s.

album cover, old diner receipt, postcard in glass case.
Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

What they're saying: "We're not just exploring Mister Kelly's, but also how significantly different the neighborhood is now from the way it was back then," curator Alison Hinderliter tells Axios.

  • "We went back to Bug House Square and the Dill Pickle Club where all of these freethinkers hung around the Gold Coast at the time."

Zoom out: Now Gibsons Steakhouse, Mister Kelly's had been the epicenter of a hip and happening nightlife scene, which defied the city's segregation and included Black performers like Flip Wilson, Billie Holiday, Ramsey Lewis and Richard Pryor.

Yes, but: Today, it's hard to find remnants of the glitz.

  • "The intimacy of Rush Street at that time was really hard to ignore," filmmaker David Marienthal tells Axios. Marienthal not only contributed to the exhibit, he's the son of Mister Kelly's co-owner George Marienthal.
  • "It wasn't just Mister Kelly's, there were more than 20 clubs in the area. It was a real group effort."

What's next: The exhibit is open until July 20. The library is hosting a series of events to celebrate this time in Chicago history, including bringing one of the acts back for a reunion.

  • Marienthal will screen his film on Mister Kelly's at the Hideout tonight, followed by a Q&A.
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