History

33 West Kinzie, Chicago

Chicago-Varnish-Company
Harry Caray’s original restaurant, located in Chicago’s popular River North neighborhood at 33 West Kinzie, first opened its doors for  business in 1987, but 33 West Kinzie and River North weren’t always the bustling night life destination that people know today.

Layer 11Built for the Chicago Varnish Company in 1895 under the supervision of its renowned architect, Henry Ives Cobb, 33 West Kinzie is the only remaining example of 19th century Dutch Renaissance Architecture left in the city. Cobb, also known for designing Chicago landmarks such as the Old Post Office building, the Newberry Library, Castle Nightclub and the Chicago Athletic Club, established himself as one of the premier Chicago architects in the late 19th century.

bldg1955In July of 2001 the building, with its distinctive red brick and limestone façade-gable and tile roof, was designated a Landmark by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Concerned that a new owner might force Harry Caray’s restaurant to move from its landmark River North location, a group of high-profile investors and friends of the famous Cubs announcer bought the building in 2002 to preempt such a move. These investors include former Cub and now Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills Coach Marv Levy, sportscaster Bob Costas, Harry’s wife Dutchie Caray, and Harry Caray’s CEO Grant DePorter.

Nitti

Frank Nitti, Enforcer of Al Capone, former tenant at 33 W. Kinzie

Thrillist Chicago’s #1 Urban Treasure You Need to Find

The building changed hands many times over the years. In 1939 it was sold to the in-laws of Frank Nitti, the infamous enforcer of the Capone gang, to house their cheese company. Nitti had an apartment on the fourth floor from early 1939 until he passed away in 1943. This was a convenient hideout for him as the courthouse building was clearly visible from the apartment. The building was also connected to the city’s tunnel network which allowed him to easily slip out without being seen. The apartment still exists today and contains his bedroom, original cedar closet, bathroom, kitchen and living room. The restaurant has maintained Nitti’s rooms by hanging pictures of Nitti, Capone, and other historical figures and events of that time on the room’s walls.

You can see the interior what was once Frank Nitti’s office in the video below. (The office is now occupied by Harry Caray’s CEO Grant DePorter who walks you through the space in the video.)

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Frank Nitti’s Vault

Perhaps the most interesting thing about 33 West Kinzie was the discovery of Frank Nitti’s Vault, which contained a one-of-a-kind collection of artifacts, photographs and newspaper articles featuring Frank Nitti. While the fourth floor served as Nitti’s apartment, he kept his secrets hidden away beneath the streets of Chicago.

nitti-address-bookLocated in the basement level of Harry Caray’s, Nitti’s vault features many artifacts uncovered in the building, including a phonebook containing contact information for several reputed Chicago gangsters from the 30’s and  40’s, a three-door safe from the early 1900s, tunnels and secret rooms as well as numerous original newspaper articles and photographs documenting the activities and crimes of Chicago gangsters during the Capone era.

The Vault, which is accessible through Harry’s Bar, can be viewed by guests at no cost during regular restaurant hours.