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Strip clubs, gangsters and the City Council: Resurrecting Al Capone (Part 2)

(Day 2 in a 3-Day Series)

"It wasn't Mike 'Bon Bon' Allegretti's time to die.

Yet he knelt on the floor of his East Dubuque cafe.

Reputed hitman Jack Shea stood over him with two automatic pistols leveled. 

'You're a dead one,' Shea kept repeating. 'I came here to get you, and I have got you.' 

For 10 minutes, the cat and mouse game continued. Then -- 'Say your prayers,' Shea directed. 'You're a dead one when I count to three.' 

Shea's enjoyment was obvious. A smile crossed his face when he said, 'Three!' 

He pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. His smile turned to a foolish grin. He had not released the safety catches on either of his automatics. 

Bon Bon leaped to his feet and ran for the bar. 

Shea's gun was in operation in two seconds, but two seconds too late. He fired three shots at Bon Bon, who was running, but all missed. Bon Bon reached his revolver. 

Six of Bon Bon's bullets sped true -- into the body of Shea." 

-- Dec. 30, 1926, The Chicago Daily Tribune

Illinois readers were riveted by the headline screaming, "CHICAGO GUNMEN CARRY WAR TO (EAST) DUBUQUE; 1 DEAD."

The December 1926 special news bulletin read like a Dick Tracy comic strip, yet it was real life for East Dubuque -- the town reporters labeled "Little Cicero," a reference to Al Capone's then-headquarters in Cicero, Ill.

This was the time of speakeasies and moonshine, mobsters and coppers, raids and roadhouses. This was the time when tavern owners connected their businesses by underground tunnels where they hid their illegal booze. This was the time when Al Capone came to East Dubuque to investigate after a liquor still explosion, according to one eyewitness.

"This is our history -- Al Capone and prohibition and night life," said George Young, an East Dubuque bar owner, "and I think it's a really, really cool history. I'm telling you, all we'd have to do is really play up our whole history, and we'd really have something here, if they'd let us ..."

'Sin City'

Three years ago, the East Dubuque City Council made its mark on history by passing two controversial ordinances.
The council first banned adult entertainment from the downtown.

The second ordinance created a two-phase plan to move back 3:30 a.m. bar closing times to 2 a.m. The first phase begins Saturday, May 1, when the bars will close at 3 a.m. By May 2013, they will close at 2 a.m.

City officials cited several reasons for the changes, chiefly that:
* Too many crimes occur downtown in the early-morning hours.
* Increased crime strains the city's police budget.
* The city's image suffers from its "party town" reputation.

"The city has been portrayed as 'Sin City' and the place where the strip clubs and seedy bars existed," said Mayor James Hanley. "This image has cost the city its reputation as a family-friendly community."

For that reason, he said, the city needs to start reinventing its past and create an improved future.

'My family brought the liquor'

Dalene "Toots" Mulgrew Temperley likes the past just as it is.

"The bars, the clubs, Al Capone and his gangsters -- that's our history," she said, "and if we take away our history, then what do we have? Not much, that's what. We have a history we can't change even if we wanted to, so why not embrace it?"

She practices what she preaches in her own establishment, Mulgrew's Tavern & Liquor Store. 

Dozens of black and white photographs line the bar's walls -- her great-grandfather standing next to the newly opened store, her great-uncle tending bar, her mother mixing drinks, her father laughing with his customers. Temperley even showcases a fuzzy picture of her as a toddler standing in front of the swiveling bar stools.

"I'd sure say my family has a history," she said. "After all, it was my family that brought the liquor in after Prohibition."

As she tells her stories, she smiles. Meanwhile, customers meander in, and she greets almost all by name. They know her history, too, and they chime in with tales of days of old.

"We've had people get engaged here; people have their first date and their first kiss here," Temperley said.

It's a past stretching back to Sept. 29, 1921, when her great-grandfather "Old Bill" Mulgrew opened Mulgrew's Grocery. When the ban on liquor lifted, Old Bill's sales perked, and somewhere along the line the store transformed into a family legacy.

"And it's one I'm proud to be a part of," Temperley said. "I just don't want it to end because of some city people thinking they know better."

'It was classy'

George Young may not remember the roaring '20s, but he remembers the good old days of the '60s and the '70s.

"At one time, I had as much fun in East Dubuque as I did anywhere else I went," he said. "Other than Vegas, this was it."

The 34-year owner of George & Dale's Sports Bar & Grill spent countless nights mesmerized by the acts attracted by the city's night scene.

"You put on your best suit and your best tie, and you took your best girl out for a good time," he said. "There would be lines of people waiting to get into the supper clubs, and there was so much live music and dancing and just fantastic entertainment. You used to look down the street, and there were all these neon lights, and it looked just like Vegas. I'm telling you, it was classy."

Young and other bar owners estimate some 30-plus bars and clubs operated at any one time during the downtown's brightest days.

Then something changed.

Nobody -- not the city, not the bar owners, not the community's citizens -- can identify just what happened.

Maybe the strip clubs opening in the late '60s brought a different type of clientele. Or maybe the bigger city across the river started welcoming a tougher crowd. Or maybe the out-of-town bar owners' alleged neglect of their businesses lowered standards. Or maybe times have just changed.

"I don't know what happened to us here, but it sure ain't the good ol' days anymore," Young said.

'My history, too'

Hanley knows East Dubuque's past.

He grew up in the town, and his dad once saw Jimmy Durante in the downtown.

"It's my history, too," he said.

But now he struggles to see past the more recent pages in the community's history book.

Last year, six street brawls sent people to the hospital. A few years back, one out-of-town bar owner stuck the city with a $50,000 demolition bill after his tavern caught fire. Buildings that once boasted thousands of customers annually now sit empty, their rotting stench gagging passers-by.

"We have to envision a new future," he says.

He and other city officials say that new outlook should include several different downtown businesses -- a grocery store, a bank, a few antique shops and more.

Bar owners say the future should look to its past -- old-fashioned streetlights, bouncers in Zoot suits, bartenders dressed as flappers.

"Al Capone drank here. Can't you just see how people would flock to that?" Young asked.

'Good memories will cease'

Temperley already sees the future.

Or, at least, she used to.

Just as her father, Dallas Mulgrew, passed the bar to her, she wants to pass on her livelihood to her 26-year-old daughter, Terissa Goebel.

"She's hoping this is here for her one day, and I want that more than anything," Temperley said. "Here at this place, people always come in and tell me what great fun they had, and I'm worried that one day this won't be here for (Terissa). More than that, I'm worried that one day those good memories will cease, because there won't be anybody coming to town to make new ones."