Sinful City

Who us, wholesome? As the new book Gold Coast Madam attests, Chicagoans are not that innocent

From the 2012-13 Winter issue of Michigan Avenue magazine

By Paige Wiser

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The Everleigh sisters.

To the rest of the country, Chicago – sexually speaking — is about as wholesome as it gets.

We’re better known for our colorful corruption. For fixing World Series games, say, and raffling off Senate seats. When Republican Jack Ryan finally came through with a real sex scandal, it turned out to be with his own wife, for God’s sake.

But sex has been seething below Chicago’s surface since the beginning. Cuddly Al Capone may have put us on the map with tales of bootlegging, gambling, extortion, bludgeoning co-workers with a Louisville slugger, and (gasp!) tax evasion. It’s easy to forget that he pioneered a thriving prostitution ring, too.

Now a redheaded ex-con grandmother is confirming that lust has never left town in “Gold Coast Madam,” her memoir of sex and sin in the city. Rose Laws lived in a 21st-floor condo in Lake Point Tower, and had a base of operations at 405 N. Wabash, right next to the Chicago Sun-Times. She charged up to $900 an hour for some of the yummiest girls in town.

Now in her mid-70s, Rose set up dates in apartments on North Dearborn and West Illinois with Chicago’s finest. Her clients included movie stars, Second City comics, Blackhawks, politicians, lawmen, and the Super Bowl champion Bears of 1985.

The only name she has voluntarily, gleefully offered is former Bull Dennis Rodman. He still owes her for a party at the Ambassador Hotel with two of her best girls.

Tacky. But then, Rodman was never a real Chicagoan.

Will “Gold Coast Madam” shock the world? Maybe it doesn’t put Chicago in the same class as Italy’s bunga bunga orgies, but then, the Viagra Triangle wasn’t named for nothing.

This town has always had a lascivious underbelly. Rose Laws brings to mind another red-haired hostess: Minna Everleigh, who opened the world-renowned Everleigh Club in 1900 with her sister. The palatial bordello at 2132 S. Dearborn introduced Chicago to mirrored ceilings, mood music played by orchestras, and a gold piano that required tremendous upkeep.

It also introduced the phrase “getting Everleighed,” now shortened to “getting laid.”

This being Chicago, one of the club’s most popular attractions was the Pullman Palace Buffet, which could cost up to $150. And this being Chicago, newsmen and state legislators were entertained for free, while the sisters had protection from aldermen “Bathhouse” John Coughlin and Hinky Dink Kenna.

Scandalous? Well, it depends on your definition. The Everleigh Club had customers like “Uncle Ned,” who would show up around the holidays to rent the whole place out for himself. He’d order two buckets of ice for his feet, drink sarsaparilla and shout, “It’s a wonderful day for an old-fashioned sleigh ride!” The Everleigh girls would dance around him singing “Jingle Bells.”

It was sweet, really.

More recently, we were held in thrall to the story of “the pimp dentist of Chicago.” In 2005, Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Dr. Gary Kimmell for laundering money for a nationwide prostitution ring.

Kimmell’s practice was in the Gold Coast, but he owned nine units in that most Midwestern of architectural icons, Marina City’s corncobs. Some of those apartments were lent to “unsavory types”; some of those unsavory types asked Kimmell to fix prostitutes’ teeth after they’d been beaten up.

No one’s saying that Kimmell was ever a client himself. Just that he gave the girls pretty smiles in return for $20,000 in a shoebox.

It was sweet, really.

“The Gold Madam” is just the latest chapter in Chicago’s historic kama sutra. Maybe this time we can stop pretending to be shocked and celebrate entrepreneur Rose Laws, who simplified sex with one-stop shopping. A movie deal would be a nicer gesture than another indictment, with New Trier’s own Ann-Margret playing Miss Rose.

Considering her expansive client list, there would be plenty of room for cameos.

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