Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

Although 309 East Garfield Boulevard is currently an empty lot next to the Green Line on Garfield Boulevard, one hundred years ago it was a popular spot for business luncheons, dinner parties, and dances. Located steps away from the 55th Street elevated train depot, the Chinese-owned Golden Lily Cafe opened around 1920.1 The 1920 Census lists 309 E Garfield Boulevard as the residence of three Chinese men in their 40s and 50s, one who owned the restaurant and two others who worked there as cooks.2 The fact that these Cafe employees were all male and middle-aged is no coincidence. US immigration laws first restricted the immigration of Chinese women and later the immigration of Chinese male laborers with exceptions for merchants, thus ensuring that the Chinese population in the United States during this era was disproportionately male and middle-aged, and that Chinese immigrants ran a large number of small businesses like laundries and restaurants. 

Rather than serving lattes, the Golden Lily Cafe featured two orchestras and nightly dancing from 7 to 2.3 As a business situated in a racially segregated city, it was reported to have a strict whites-only policy for most of the 1920s.4 But this whites-only policy became bad for business as the neighborhood surrounding it became predominantly black and many white patrons sought entertainment elsewhere.4 In October 1929, the Golden Lily decided to adapt to this by catering to a black rather than white clientele4. It replaced its white orchestra with a black one and declared its doors open to all— regardless of race.4 5 6 Two weeks later, the Golden Lily was bombed4. Glass windows shattered, and although the offender was never caught, racial animosity was the widely suspected motive.4 5 6 The bombing luckily did not injure anyone, and the Golden Lily was so popular that it reopened for business the very same evening.4 5 With black musicians and a mostly black clientele, the Golden Lily became a place where up-and-coming jazz stars like Arnold Wiley and Tiny Parham performed, as well as a full-time source of employment for the musicians in Francois Mosely’s band.4 7 8 9 It wouldn’t be long, however, until disaster struck the Golden Lily again. In 1932, the Golden Lily Cafe was destroyed by a fire.10 This time the destruction was more severe. Musical instruments were destroyed and plates were blackened with ash, altogether totalling about $10,000 in damage (equivalent to more than $200,000 today).10 The cafe had to close for more than a month for repairs. 10 11However, it reopened yet again, and stayed open for at least one more year.11 12 13 Although the Golden Lily Cafe did not survive the end of the prohibition era, the legacy of the nightclub lived on as it became the first of a series of nightclubs on this block of Garfield Boulevard that employed up-and-coming jazz musicians. Although nightclubs like the Golden Lily Cafe on the south side of Chicago were short-lived, they would launch the careers of a generation of great musicians who got their start on the southside of Chicago.


  1. “Dishwasher” advertisement, 22.
  2. US Census
  3. “Featuring two Orchestras” advertisement, 27. 
  4. “Bomb Hits,” 1.
  5. “Black and Tan,” 5.
  6. “Cafe and Garage,” 4. 
  7. “Trick Pianist,” 7. 
  8. Hayes, “Here and There,” 5. 
  9. “Francois Band,” 18.
  10. “Mysterious Fire,” 1.
  11. Hayes, “Returns and Tells,” 5. 
  12. “On the Air,” 3. 
  13. “McClain Duo,” 19.


“Black and Tan Cafe Bombed.” Pittsburgh Courier, October 26, 1929. https://www.newspapers.com/image/40037951/?terms=Golden%20Lily%20Cafe&match=1.

“Bomb Hits S.S. Chop Suey Cafe.” Chicago Defender, October 26, 1929. https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender1/docview/492226946/fulltextPDF/42B87906BFAA49ADPQ/2?accountid=303.

“Cafe and Garage Bombed; County Score now is 104.” Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1929. https://www.newspapers.com/image/349147818/?terms=golden%20lily%20cafe&match=1.

“Francois Band, Coming East with Reed’s Show, Boasts Great Arranger.” Pittsburgh Courier, October 6, 1934. https://www.newspapers.com/image/40064812/?terms=%22Golden%20Lily%20Cafe%22&match=1.

Golden Lily Restaurant. “Dishwasher.” advertisement. Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1920. https://www.newspapers.com/image/355146542/?terms=golden%20lily&match=1.

Hayes, Bob. “Bob Hayes returns and tells of his journey.” Chicago Defender, April 2, 1932. https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender1/docview/492354651/F0B5BA8E47564B43PQ/12?accountid=14657 

Hayes, Bob. “Here and There.” Chicago Defender, July 2, 1932. https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender1/docview/492391932/3F98039FF3894514PQ/3?accountid=303.

“McClain Duo to Twirl at Club Zazu.” Pittsburgh Courier, February 2, 1935. https://www.newspapers.com/image/40065155/?terms=golden%20lily%20cafe&match=1.

“Mysterious Fire Wrecks Golden Lily.” Chicago Defender, February 13, 1932. https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender1/docview/492312690/9EC18D7C985F43E5PQ/1?accountid=303.

“On the Air and Otherwise.” Black Dispatch, March 23, 1933. https://www.newspapers.com/image/872045644/?terms=golden%20lily%20cafe&match=1.

The Golden Lily. “Featuring Two Orchestras.” advertisement. Chicago Tribune, November 27, 1926.https://www.newspapers.com/image/355211538/?terms=309%20E%20Garfield&match=1

“Trick Pianist,” Chicago Defender, March 29, 1930. https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender1/docview/492242775/fulltextPDF/DD87A880CAE54913PQ/1?accountid=303.

U.S. Census Bureau. Fourteenth Census of United States: 1920 – Population. Prepared by Ancestry.https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4300181_00587?ssrc=&backlabel=Return&pId=95992526.