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Meet Chicago's Other 606— A Mid-Century Strip Club

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Jun 18, 2015 9:45PM

2015_06_18_606.jpg Ben Campney

Before The 606, the elevated park, there was The 606, the strip club.

As Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote in her Wednesday column, the one does not have to do with the other, but still offers a quirky peek into Chicago's history.

South Wabash Avenue was once home to a district of flophouses and burlesque clubs, Schmich writes, and one of the swankier ones sat at 606 S. Wabash Ave. The 606, as it was called, was shut down in the 1940s for "indecency," but reopened a year later and went on to be featured in A. J. Liebling's celebrated 1952 book Chicago: The Second City.

"The girls in the 606 appear a trifle better fed than those in the Clark Street places," he wrote, "and consequently exhibit a bit more spirit." The club was later visited by a cast of politicians, tourists and one Hugh Hefner, according to Schmich, and in true Chicago fashion its owner was convicted of a voter fraud scheme.

The story gets juicier when it veers from facts into rumors. Among the most interesting, if unlikely: The 606 Club is the reason Chicago's area codes begin with 606 rather than 600, in a postmaster's clever ode to the strip club; The 606 Club was the place where Mayor Richard J. Daley and then-presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy met to discuss his 1960 campaign; and in a final strange coincidence, "606" was once a code-name for an old-timey STI treatment.

The 606, the park, takes its name from the first three digits of most Chicago zipcodes, in a node to the commonalities of the four neighborhoods the elevated trail cuts through. The name is also meant to distinguish the new network of ground level public parks and the elevated park from the Bloomingdale Trail, which has long been the name of the railway, according to Beth White, director of the Trust for Public Land.