THE BEER BEAT: Schaller’s Pump has closed, but why was Chicago’s oldest bar called a “Pump,” anyway?


My longtime beer biz friend, John “Mr. Chicago” Freyer, brings us this story about the passing of an institution. While sad, it’s also fascinating on several levels, and I recommend you read in full the accounts referenced here.

The demise of any 136-year-old bar is both newsworthy and regrettable. What strikes me about Schaller’s Pump is the name itself. Nowadays, you simply don’t see too many bars referring to themselves as “pumps,” although there are a few newer establishments around the country that have borrowed the rare old-school usage.

I asked John about it.

Roger: I’m assuming “pump” refers to the act of pouring beer, like a throwback to hand pumps?

John: It used to be part of a brewery that was next door (Ambrosia Brewery).

Roger: So, it’s to be taken in the sense of pumping beer from brewery to drinking point? I’m fascinated by the usage. Is “pump” a synonym for “tap”?

John: There used to several places with Pump in its name, like Stump’s Pump. It’s gone the way of the supper club.

He’s on the money. The Chicago Bar Project profiles Schaller’s Pump:

According to Newcity Chicago’s David Witter, the bar’s name stems from its neighbor: “The Ambrosia Brewery, one of dozens of neighborhood beer makers of the era, was located in what is now the parking lot next door. Beer was supposedly pumped in straight from the brewer’s giant casks, giving the room its moniker, ‘Schaller’s Pump.'” Back in those days there were more than 30 post-Prohibition breweries in the neighborhood. Now that’s Bridgeport!

The Chicago Tribune corroborates.

The bar took “Pump” as part of its name because of the brewery next door pumping beer directly into the tavern. It was a short walk from the former home of Richard J. Daley and across the street from the 11th Ward Democratic headquarters.

I didn’t spend much time looking for more detailed background, although as an aside, what may or may not be New York City’s oldest tavern had “pump” in its name long before Andrew Jackson became president.

In its beginnings at 1829, Neir’s was called The Blue Pump Room and owned by Cadwallader R. Colden, manager of the famed Union Course Race Track.

Owing to the vagaries of Chicago’s laws pertaining to property tax relief for senior citizens, the fate of Schaller’s Tap looks to have been sealed when 92-year-old Jack Schaller died in 2016. Unfortunately, no Jack — no tax break.

Jack wasn’t hard to find. Until his death, he lived in an apartment above the bar. Over the last five decades, countless neighborhood folks have walked through the tavern’s signature wooden door looking for the man who kept it running for so many years.

“They’d ask, ‘Is Jack around?’” Thompson said, “And then he’d come down the stairs.”

My favorite social media comment is this one.

On Friday nights, they had an accordion player who knew every Chicago Catholic League fight song.

Goodbye, Schaller’s Pump.

Schaller’s Pump, oldest bar in Chicago, set to close Sunday, by Sam Charles and
Matthew Hendrickson (Chicago Sun-Times)

The oldest bar in Chicago, Schaller’s Pump in Bridgeport, poured its final drink Saturday night.

The bar, owned by the same family since 1881, will not open Sunday, according to its owner Kimberly Shinnick. It holds Chicago liquor license No. 6.

Shinnick, reached by phone at the bar Saturday afternoon, declined to provide specifics but told a Chicago Sun-Times reporter, “Yes, the bar is shutting down.”

“This is a really hard time right now,” she added before hanging up …

Cubs this, Cubs that. There’s another baseball team in Chicago, folks.

“It’s sad to hear that this Bridgeport institution — just blocks from our ballpark — is closing,” Scott Reifert, team spokesman for the White Sox, said in an email Saturday evening.

“Generations of White Sox fans made a stop at Schaller’s part of their tradition when attending a Sox game. I am sure that fans who can not get to Schaller’s tonight are still likely to raise a glass wherever they are to honor this icon of Chicago history.”

“Schaller’s Original Pump,” according to the sign.