BRIDGEPORT — Without Gazarek’s Tavern, there wouldn’t have been a Joanne Gazarek-Bloom.
That’s because her parents first met at her grandfather’s now defunct Bridgeport bar at Union and 29th streets.
“She was 10 and he was 12 and she was getting a pail of beer for her dad at Gazarek’s Tavern,” she said, laughing.
That pail of beer ultimately produced Gazarek-Bloom, who in honor of her love and knowledge for all things Bridgeport, co-authored a book, “Images of America: Bridgeport,” released in August.
According to the book, Bridgeport was Chicago’s first real neighborhood. According to Gazarek-Bloom, “Bridgeport helped invent Chicago, transformed commerce, and saved the world.”
Standing about 5 foot, 2 inches, with a booming voice that tells endless stories, Gazarek-Bloom, 64, has held jobs ranging from lawyer to organ runner. Surrounded by White Sox memorabilia in her Hyde Park home, Garazek-Bloom spoke about her grandfather’s bar at 2858 S. Union St.
Michael Gazarek immigrated to Chicago in 1905 and bought the property for Gazarek’s Tavern in 1927.
“I once said, ‘Grandpa, did you sell alcohol during Prohibition?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t have to sell it, I had to buy it,” Gazarek-Bloom said.
The tavern was “not the largest in town but the best at tables for ladies,” according to an original business card Gazarek-Bloom has held onto.
Michael Gazarek made those business cards for the 34th World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933. The watermark on the card reads “Century of Progress,” the fair’s slogan.
Gazarek-Bloom grew up at 2847 S. Emerald Ave. “Across the alley and down the street from the bar,” she said.
Michael Gazarek eventually sold the bar in 1949. He passed away in 1960.
Georgeann Auer, a 71-year-old United Airlines retiree, is Joanne Gazarek-Bloom’s eldest cousin on her father’s side.
Though she hasn’t lived in Bridgeport since the second grade, Auer said she remembers her grandfather and the masses of hungry neighborhood patrons who came looking for food and good company.
“He had the most magnificent amount of people coming in for the food," she said. "He kept things rolling in that place. That bar was always crowded. I think it was mainly my grandmother’s food that brought everyone in there.”
Auer recalled the telephone booth in the front and dumbwaiter in the back that would bring up the food her grandmother cooked.
Her grandfather handed that food out freely, especially to patrons hurt by the Great Depression.
“He helped a whole lot of people in that neighborhood,” Auer said. “He’d give them jobs. If people needed food, it would be no charge, no nothing.”
The true testament of Michael Gazarek’s generosity, according to JoAnne Gazarek-Bloom, came at her atheist uncle’s wake.
“So we’re figuring, who’s gonna come to Bill’s wake? Bill wasn’t exactly a real friendly guy,” she said.
“And there’s a line!” she said. “There’s people there, not for Bill, but for ‘the business.’”
“The business” was the family nickname for Gazarek’s Tavern.
Gazarek-Bloom said she was approached by one family who said her father let them live in the bar’s basement for three months after an older brother lost a gambling bet. Another family spoke of a free meal once a week during the Depression.
“And all those people were there because of ‘the business,’” she said.
Even though she’s lived in Romeoville for years, Georgeann Auer said she still goes back to look at the site of the old bar, now a two-story brick apartment building.
“I went back there a couple of months ago with a younger cousin. She didn’t remember the place, she’s too young,” Auer said. “She just couldn’t believe it was a bar at one point.”
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