Saturday, January 10, 2009

Al Capone's Hideaway and Steakhouse

Al Capone's Hideaway and Steakhouse was once actually one of the 10,000 speakeasies in the Chicago area controlled by Capone. Built in 1917 as Reitmayer's Resort and Beer Garden, the establishment catered to tourists and well-to-do residents who built summer homes along the shore of the Fox River in the Valley View area north of St. Charles.

With the passage of Prohibition, the Reitmayers entered a wild and daring time, manufacturing their own liquor and catering to some shadowy figures. In case of a raid, secret copper lines carried the illicit booze into a hidden storage area in the hen house.

In 1972, Bill Brooks Jr., a computer salesman visiting the area, noticed the rundown old beer garden and restaurant and bought it. Preserving the pine plank floors and walls, Brooks decorated his restaurant with memorabilia from the Prohibition Era. If you like history, allow a little time on your visit for reading newspaper stories of mob hits, receipts and letters from Capone's business, and looking at photographs of the Chicago Outfit.

Bill Brooks III, 32, who was born and raised upstairs of the restaurant, said Al Capone's Hideaway and Steakhouse ages and trims all its steaks in-house. Two charcoal grill chefs, Brooks' uncle Mike Mosher and Ray Heaberlin, have worked the grill for 35 and 32 years respectively. Every week, the duo serve about 1,200 customers and use 1,400 pounds of charcoal. The menu is loaded with steaks, seafood, bullet holes, pictures of Capone and his cronies and, naturally, Eliot Ness.

Capone's business, of course, was illegal liquor. He once said, "When I sell liquor, they call it bootlegging. When my patrons serve it on silver trays on Lake Shore Drive, they call it hospitality."

Legal liquor has become an important part of the Brooks' Alphonse Capone Enterprises. The Brooks family wholesales Roaring 20's Wine, Microbrews and Spirits. A vodka called Tommy Gun Vodka is sold in a glass bottle shaped like a 20's era Tommy Gun, complete with a barrel and two handles. Their vodkas are distilled in Poland. One, named Kul, Polish for cool, scored 91 of a possible 100 points in recent taste testings conducted by the Beverage Testing Institute. Kul, which retails for $10.95, was awarded a Gold Medal and Best Buy. "Kul got a higher rating than many $30 vodkas," said Brooks.

"The restaurant will always stay a part of our lives," said Brooks. "It's the base foundation for everything else, even though the liquor business can do in a month what the restaurant does in a year."

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