Capone, Hinky Dink & Bathhouse

Kenna and Coughlin, pictured after their heyday as Chicago’s most powerful aldermen.

Capone indignantly denied that it was he who corrupted Chicago. He had a point. It may be that no single gangster ever held such sway over the city, but well before he left Brooklyn to work for Torrio, Chicago politics, like the festering swamp from which the city arose, stank to high heaven. Up until Prohibition, the two most powerful figures in Chicago were a couple of aldermen from the red light district known as the Levee. In a passage I edited out of I, Capone, I had him recount his encounter with John “Bathhouse” Coughlin on Capone’s first night in Chicago, and fill us in on “Hinky Dink.”

First thing I do after I get downstairs is buy myself a drink. While I’m standing at the bar, and some of Torrio’s luogotenenti [lieutenants] like Joe Moresco come up to meet me, in comes this brushy-haired old Mick with a English pomade mustache twisted out to here, and he’s wearing clothes like a clown: a bowler with a polka-dot band, a dark green coat, light green pants, tan shoes, spats. When he unbuttons his coat he’s got on a brown silk shirt with a pink tie and a green-and-white check vest buttoned over his paunch.

I’m thinking, Uh, oh. This is one mossy old mick that’s about to find out he walked into the wrong bar.

But soon as the dagos seen him they give a cheer, clap his back, buy him whiskey. “Hey, it’s Bathhouse,” they call out. “How they hangin’, Bathhouse?”

I think they’re saying “Bat-house,” so I figure he’s one of them village idiots the boys put up with for entertainment. But somebody must’ve told Torrio he come in, cause he steps downstairs to greet him with a smile I never seen him flash before. Him and J.T. talk serious a minute, then J.T. calls me over, introduces me as Al Brown, and the old man as “Bathhouse” Coughlin, the longest serving alderman in the history of Chicago.

“So this is the lad from New York?” he says, shaking my hand. “Welcome to my city.”

Bathhouse was crooked as a zig-zag. You could say he was on everybody’s pad, or everybody was on his, and you’d be right. He and his pal, “Hinky Dink” Kenna, run not just their ward, including the old red light Levee district, but the rest of Chicago. They was hands and gloves in every crooked deal in the city, and become the “Lords of the Levee” and the ringleaders of the Grey Wolves: grandstanding back slappers that was all on the pad. Anybody wants to get something done in Chicago, first he gotta grease their palms good.

Bathhouse and the Dink respected Colosimo and Torrio cause they never welched. Always played with a fresh deck. That was their reputation with everybody. Their word was their bond. And if Colosimo took over somebody’s racket by bumping off the management, it was okay by Bathhouse and the Dink, cause they’d rather do business with Colosimo than anybody else.

Bathhouse got that moniker cause he started out as a rubber in a Turkish bath, but he got where he was by patience, hard work, loyalty, friendship, generosity. He was a good old man, always telling jokes, buying rounds, singing songs from the Old Country. He knew how to work a crowd.

The Dink was opposite. He was more like Torrio: smart, always angling. The Dink got the goods on everybody and barely broke five feet. (I don’t know what it is about short gangsters being so smart, but he was the same like Torrio and Lansky and Nitto. Maybe it’s God felt bad He made them so small.) All the Dink thought about was votes and dough. When he sniffed money in a room — ka-ching! — his eyes rolled like the fruit in a one-armed bandit. After he shakes your hand, you better check you still got all your fingers.

Before the wowsers closed the Levee, the Dink owned a string of saloons and flophouses and soup kitchens to take in the bums and deadbeats he rounded up from every corner of Cook County to vote for him and Bathhouse. There was these cribs upstairs that was divided up by chicken wire, and they say you never wanted to go up there. You could smell it from the street. Every morning the bums would line up at the bar with pails so one of the Dink’s bartenders could dole out a brew of the whiskey and beer and every kind of slop that he squeegee’ed off the bar the night before. That’s all it took to buy them bums’ votes.

I guess Bathhouse and Dink needed each other: one to massage the voters and look out for the widows and orphans, the other to count votes and grease palms and collect from the rackets. And for a long time, Colosimo never got to worry about the cops raiding his joints. For protection from the cops and the courts, his Grey Wolves charged whorehouses a flat weekly of $100 a floor, $50 a saloon, $25 a gambling den.

Excised from I, Capone: The Memoirs of Al Capone: A Novel by Andrew Ward. Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Ward. All rights reserved.

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