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May 11, 2017

Inside the Everleigh Club, the Most Famous and Luxurious House of Prostitution in American History

Step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history–and the catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation. Operating in Chicago’s notorious Levee district at the dawn of the last century, the Club’s proprietors, two aristocratic sisters named Minna and Ada Everleigh, welcomed moguls and actors, senators and athletes, foreign dignitaries and literary icons, into their stately double mansion, where thirty stunning Everleigh “butterflies” awaited their arrival.

Courtesans named Doll, Suzy Poon Tang, and Brick Top devoured raw meat to the delight of Prince Henry of Prussia and recited poetry for Theodore Dreiser. Whereas lesser madams pocketed most of a harlot’s earnings and kept a “whipper” on staff to mete out discipline, the Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac.

The prices of services provided by the Everleigh Club were extremely inflated by the standards of the day, though these high prices were easily paid by wealthy patrons with an excess of funds. Typically, a patron would initially pay a $10 entrance fee. Patrons could also treat themselves to a variety of amenities that the club offers some of which include: a $12 bottle of wine, a $50 dinner, $25 for supper, or $50 to spend an evening with one of the "Everleigh butterflies." Regardless of what the patron chose to purchase, a minimum of $50 had to be spent by each patron in each visit or they risked having their admission permanently revoked. But patrons had no difficulty reaching the minimum spending. In fact, often clients would spend on an average of $200 to $1,000 a visit.

Ada and Minna Everleigh.

High costs resulted in high returns for the employees and owners of the Everleigh Club. The Everleigh Sisters netted an average income of an astonishing $15,000 a week compared to the average working wage of only $6 a week. Once the Everleigh sisters retired they had amassed a net profit of $1 million which was equivalent to $20.5 million today.

The Everleigh sisters spared no expense in their redecoration of their brothel which they named the Everleigh Club. A dozen parlors were located on the first floor. Each parlor consisted of a certain theme such as: the Silver Parlor, the Gold Parlor, the Rose Parlor, or the Japanese Throne Room—all of which appealed to the varying groups of clientele the club received. The upstairs of the Everleigh Club held the private bedrooms where clientele could enjoy a more personal encounter with the women of his choosing alongside luxurious divans, damask chairs, gilt bathtubs and warbling canaries. As luxurious, the dining room's design emulated a private Pullman railroad passenger car with the corresponding ornate gold and mahogany trimmings. The menu featured only the finest entrees such as: duck, caviar, lobster, deviled crab, fried oysters, goose capton, and an excellent selection of wine. It is due to all these extravagant amenities the Everleigh Club was dubbed "probably the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country" by the Chicago Vice Commission.

The Everleigh quickly gained a reputation as an upscale gentlemen's club, so much so that the Everleigh sisters were forced to turn away prospective clients even on opening day on February 1, 1900. The club's extensive popularity afforded Minna and Ada the opportunity to select their clientele. Only those men deemed suitable by Minna and Ada gained admittance into the Everleigh Club. The Everleigh sisters deemed a prospective client "worthy" to be admitted into the club if: the prospective client provided a letter of recommendation from an existing member, an engraved card, or through a formal introduction by Minna or Ada. These standards made the club extremely exclusive, indulging the desires of only the wealthy and influential men. Author Karen Abbott wrote, "The cachet of being able to go there, just because they turned down so many people. It became an exclusive badge of honor just to be admitted."

Everleigh Club brothel at 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street in Chicago, c.1911.

South Dearborn Street in the Levee district of Chicago, c.1911. The Everleigh Club is on the far right.

Hallway to entrance (one of two) at 2133 South Dearborn Street.

Hallway to the entrance (one of two) at 2131 South Dearborn Street.

Alcove of the Blue Bedroom

Japanese Throne Room

Oriental Music Room

Grand Ballroom

Pullman Room

Rose Parlor Room



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