Black Entertainment: Chicago's Historic Palm Tavern Restaurant and Music Club

Photo: The Palm Tavern in Chicago's Black metropolis-Bronzeville, cir. 1941

The Palm Tavern was a "must do" performance stop for the Who's Who of Jazz performers. It was located in Chicago Landmark Black Metropolis-Bronzeville District at 446 East 47th Street in Chicago, Illinois from 1931 to 2006.  


Established in either 1931 or 1933, the original owner of Palm Tavern was James Knight. Gerri Oliver purchased the Palm Tavern from the original owners in either 1951 or 1956, the later date is reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. Nearby the Palm Tavern was the Regal Theater, the mid-south mecca for Black music performers who passed the word that when playing a Chicago gig at the Regal Theater, Oliver's red beans and rice were not to be missed.

An unbelievable number of musicians performed at this Bronzeville community establishment for more than 75 years. The many names and stories of which are in private photograph and memorabilia collections, such as the Gerri Oliver Collection, Abbott Sengstacke Collection, and Getty Images Collection.


Historians will often disagree on when a Renaissance begins and ends. The Black Chicago Renaissance occurred around the same times as the Harlem Renaissance, namely in the 1920s and 1930s. Most commentators mark the beginning of the Black Chicago Renaissance as the early 1930s, fueled by the Great Migration of African American Americans from the South.

The Palm Tavern attracted artists from music to writers. The Palm Tavern was home away from home for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Ink Spots, Josephine Baker, and other notable musicians. It was frequented by Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. The famous late poet and writer Gwendolyn Brooks resided in this South Side community.

Photo: Early Palm Tavern postcard

The Palm Tavern was also rest and relaxation place of choice for Chicago's Black middle class. Its era during the Chicago Renaissance is preserved in the priceless collection of sepia photographs and memorabilia enshrined along the walls, as a testament to the history of its service to the community. Gerri Oliver will cheerfully indulge curious customers with aging scrap books. Before purchasing the establishment she served as a waitress for many years at the Palm Tavern.

Photo: Palm Tavern patrons pose for the camera

This historic photo notes the patrons are at the Palm Tavern on April 12, 1939. The night of the inauguration of members of the City Council of Chicago. Beginning left to right: Alderman Earl B. Dickerson, 2nd Ward; Alderman Benjamin A. Grant, 3rd Ward; Kathryn Dickerson and Erma Grant.


In 1983, Chicago's Palm Tavern hosted the grassroots fundraiser that would result in the election of Chicago's first Black Mayor, Harold Washington. The history of the Palm Tavern did not live on as this blogger notes that the legendary establishment was demolished. According to another blogger, the picture below was the state of the Palm Tavern in the spring of 2006.

Photo: Palm Tavern, cir. spring 2006 with blogger noting that
Gerri Oliver was still operating the business a few years
before this picture was taken.

Photo: Palm Tavern grounds photo cir. October 2006


  1. Thank you for honoring Gerri Oliver of the Palm Tavern. She is a wonderful person and helped so many people in her community. The Palm Tavern was the last piece of an authentic tie to the Chicago Black Renaissance because it still had its Art-Deco interior. All of the other other important buildings, even the ones that were restored, had been gutted and lost their original fixtures. Now its completely gone for no good reason. Shame on Chicago. Hopefully, someday the murals from the Palm Tavern, which were last reported to be stored at DuSable Museum, will be restored from all the smoke and dust damage to their original brillance.

  2. Thank you Gary for the comment. I had the honor of interviewing Ms. Oliver in Chicago some years back when the establishment was still in operation. At the time I wrote this blog, however, is when my updated research revealed the demolition. I was pretty shocked that the Bronzeville community could not preserve this historic social club.

  3. 3rd Ward Alderman Benjamin A Grant and Emma Grant pictured above are my maternal grandparents. A huge thank you to whoever posted this...

  4. I've been on several sites about the Palm Tavern trying to find out what ever happened to Miss Gerri. I was terribly sad to go by and see that the Palm Tavern was gone. The one and only time that I went into the Palm and talked to Miss Gerri she was very friendly and matter a fact about the political games that were being played about the fate of the Palm.Now that it's gone, what happened to her? Is she still alive? If she is alive, how is she doing? What happened to the wealth of pictures and other Palm Tavern artifacts? Miss Gerri pops up in my mind every now and then like an older relative that you haven't seen in a while and I'd really like to know how she's getting along.

  5. Miss Gerri is still alive. She's living in a nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi. Blues musician Billy Branch has recorded a remarkable, deeply moving tribute to her, called "Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time," on his most recent CD, "Blues Shock" (on the Blind Pig label). He recently made a special trip to Jackson to sing it for her. It's a truly wonderful, and deeply affecting, tribute; it basically tells the story of Miss Gerri's life as the personification of the Great Migration, with all of the victories and defeats (and ongoing striving) that this history entails. Check it out if you possibly can.

  6. Jazzmanchgo, thank you for this community update about Miss Gerri. I found Billy Branch's CD tribute to her on Amazon, shared here. It is noted as being available through on January 21, 2014:

  7. It's now Dec. 2015, is she still alive?

  8. Passed by the tavern, sad to find out what happened to it. It is now Dec. 2015, is Miss Gerri still alive?


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