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David Lissner
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Two rivers: Drinking green in Chicago this St. Patrick’s Day

The Chicago River will be dyed green at 10:30 a.m. Saturday March 13, starting east of Wabash Avenue, and west of Columbus Drive.

The Chicago River will be dyed green at 10:30 a.m. Saturday March 13, starting east of Wabash Avenue, and west of Columbus Drive.

Who cares if they don’t tint beer green in Ireland?

I don’t know who first thought of green beer, but in a town that boasts not one but three separate St. Patrick’s Day parades, I shouldn’t have to tell you why green-dyed beer is a Chicago thing, or when and where to find it.

Green River

Therefore let us turn to other green things. The Irish don’t dye any rivers, either. That uniquely Chicago practice dates to 1962. I’ve always assumed that green beer was inspired by the river, but when the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers, Local 130, first dropped their dye into the water on that historic March day, the city already had a Green River — a much tastier one — the refreshing soft drink dating to the start of Prohibition.

Having introduced the lime soda in 1919, Chicago’s Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Co. turned full-time pop bottler after the Volstead Act went into effect on Jan. 16, 1920, pouring its bright green lime drink into old beer bottles. The drink was such a hit that Eddie Cantor sang about it in that year’s Ziegfeld Follies.

“Green River” by Eddie Cantor.

“Green River” by Eddie Cantor.

Since the country’s turned prohibitin’, I’ve been in a bad condition
Every soft drink that I try just makes me want to cry
Take it back from whence it came, all your drinks are much the same
I tried one here today, and believe me when I say:

For a drink that’s fine without a kick, Oh, Green River
It’s the only drink that does the trick, just Green River
Has others beat a mile, makes drinking worth while
And if you want to wear a little smile, try Green River.
If your girl gives you the sack, try Green River
You will surely win her back, it’s grand, now understand
That rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief
Once they drink it, they all think it
The best drink in the land

When the cannons stopped their thundering, everybody started
How the treaty would be signed, that was on our mind
Wilson soon forgot his “Wilson,” Haig forgot his “Haig and Haig”
Foch said, “No more Rhine wine, listen boys before we sign:

Lyrics by Eddie Cantor, music by Gus Van and Joe Schenck, 1920.

By Prohibition’s end in 1933, only Coca-Coca exceeded Green River’s Midwest fountain sales. On returning to beer brewing, though, Shoenhofen made Green River a second priority. Sales dropped, and the brewery closed in 1950.

Green River kept going with a variety of owners and spotty distribution, but now the River is rising at Chicago’s Clover Club Bottling Co., which has made it widely available throughout the metropolitan area. A few of the local restaurants serving Green River include all locations of Hackney’s, Ed Debevic’s in River North and Eleven City Diner and Manny’s in the South Loop. Many grocers lay in extra supplies at this time of year, too.

UPDATE: In 2011, the Green River brand was acquired by California-based Wit Beverage Co., which also makes Goose Island soda pop.


Green River fountain