College of Complexes, 1951

Tower Ticker, by Savage

THE COLLEGE OF COMPLEXES, “Where the literati linger and the cognoscenti congregate,” held a memorial service the other night marking the 18th anniversary of the passing of the old Dil Pickle (Jack Jones, the founder, always spelled Dil with one “l”) club.  From its nonivied facade at 1651 N. Wells st., “the college” looks like any run-of-the-gin-mill neighborhood tavern, but within those walls there is culture, camaraderie, conversation, and beer–the like of which hasn’t been known in Chicago since the shuttering of that bulwark of Bohemia in Tooker alley in 1933.

DEAN, head bartender, instigator, and conciliator of debate and owner of the lyceum is Slim Brundage, President emeritus of Hobo college, author of three unpublished books and a poet of parts, Slim is also a house painter by trade, a craft to which he intends returning “unless more cognoscenti congregate and the nut on the joint is reached.”  This piece is frankly designed for nut gathering.

A man may speak his mind in The College of Complexes, and if he wishes he may write it for posterity for the walls are all blackboards and chalk is distributed as freely as at Bensingers.  Slim himself holds forth under blackboard and backbar mirror signs such as: “It’s agin the law to sell liquor to drunks, spendthrifts, minors and lunatics.  Let’s see you prove you ain’t.”  There is also a sign, “Let there be no moaning at the bar.”  Tennyson’s name used to follow the quotation but so many of the noncognoscenti took to calling Slim “Mr. Tennyson,” that he modestly erased the poetical credit.

IN ONE CORNER of the taproom is “The Pub Crawlers’ Itinerary,” recommending sympathetic spas within “the college” circle.  Money won’t get a place on the list but it is chalked up if “it has something.”  Topping the itinerary are:  The Kustahl (where the old cows dance), at 1625 Burling st.;  Bell Pine inn (where the barbershop quartets lather);  The Barn Dance (American folk dancing), 2650 Lincoln Av.  Close by is the “Want-Ad Corner,” where habitues may chalk their needs, and to give pause to passing physicists, scrawled equations and mathematical formulas share a panel with odes composed on the spot.  There are books to read, chess to play, and a battered piano on a rostrum to have at you when a “professor” is available.

ON WEEK-ENDS the College of Complexes is all of that.  Author Sam Moss (“Thy Men Shall Fall”) may debate with Author Dorothy Sparks (“Nothing as Before”), and the audience may take them both apart.  Dr. E. I. Scheiman may orate on “Why Marriages Fail,” and the audience may produce several horrible examples.  The Rev. William T. Baird (“The most militant pacifist you ever saw”) may goad an unwary opponent into debating, “Can man stop killing man before we’re all dead?”  Anybody can get in it.  Bertie Weber, Joseph (The Yellow Kid) Weil, The Terrible Sheridan Twins, Jack and Jim, and Margaret Casey may reminisce on the past of the Pickle.  Then the tears flow like wine, into the beer.

MISSING from the group which burns a candle for their return are such Dil Picklers as Carl (Big Swede) Sandburg, Ma Colahan, Ben Hecht, Slim Minot, Max Bodenheim, Ralph Chaplin, Maurice Beam, and Edgar Miller.  No return is expected in this life from Ben Reitman, Hank Heil, Jack Jones, and Sherwood Anderson.  These last named gents would not have approved the sonnet contest of last week which was won by Fanny Nolton, a 69 year old, former “Follies” girl.  Fannie’s sonnet wasn’t even in 14 line, iambic form, but the audience gave her first prize which was $50 in cash.  Slim suggested, rather wistfully, that she leave some of it at the bar, but Fannie said heck, no, and hied for the Kustahl, maybe.

WE started to say they hold a memorial service the other night for the Dil Pickle club.  More rightfully we should have said they hold a memorial service for the Dil Pickle club EVERY night at the College of Complexes.  Come on over and bring yours.


Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1951, p. A7.  Image from the Outspoken: Chicago’s Free Speech Tradition.  See also the Slim Brundage Papers at the Newberry Library.

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8 Responses to College of Complexes, 1951

  1. Beam's Grandaughter says:

    I always wondered what in the heck he was talking about (the literati,pubs, and so on……….*Maurice Beam mentioned in the article was an author and worked for several newspapers until retiring in the 1970’s. He was the ultimate storyteller and grandpa!

    • Richard Cahan says:

      Hi…I am very interested in Maurice Beam…Please contact me if you can provide information on his history…Rich.

      • Katherine says:

        Hello Rich-
        Just reading your post.
        What stirred your interest in my grandfather Maurice Beam?
        As you can see I am still interested in finding new things that he was involved in or writing about. He led quite an adventurous life.

  2. karmaz fool says:

    I know this is a few months old, but if your Grandfather had history with the Dil Pickle near the time it closed, I have some questions about the regulars. Thanks for a great article and graphic.

    • Katherine says:

      My grandfather was probably there near the time it closed, but I really don’t know any details. He told the grand kids plenty of tales from his old days in Chicago, Tahiti, and writing for the L.A. Times. One of the big Chicago newspapers sent him to cover life in Tahiti during the late 1920’s or early 1930’s.

  3. Tobias Higbie says:

    Dear Katherine: I’m so pleased that this little bit of history was meaningful for you! Now that I’m out in Los Angeles, I’ll have to look up Maurice Beam’s writing in the Times. If you are in Chicago, the Newberry Library has quite a few important collections of Chicago journalists from your grandfather’s time. It might be worth digging if you’re interested. Sorry for the slow responses.

    –Toby Higbie

  4. herbertfreemancriminaldefenseattorney says:

    CAN’T WAIT UNTIL NOVEMBER 17TH OF 2012. TOPIC IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE POSSIBLE END OF PHYSICS AS WE KNOW IT, DUE TO DISCOVERY OF THE “GOD PARTICLE.” Frankly depending on the outcome of the election we may begin experiencing the end of intelligent life as we know it…..

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