Madame Galli's (Italian restaurant)

Street Address: 
18 East Illinois Street
Chicago, IL

Culled from: Drury, John. Dining in Chicago, New York: The John Day Company, 1931, pp. 44-48.

Note: The Newberry Library holds the personal papers of author John Drury.

Still at the Old Stand

Once, while conversing with the late Enrico Caruso as he ate spaghetti in her restaurant, Mme. Galli said: "Signor, I would give the whole world if I could sing like you."

And the great "O Sole Mio" singer replied: "Madame, I would give the whole world if I could cook spaghetti like you."

And there you have it in a nut shell. For forty years, Mme. Galli's has been serving spaghetti and other Italian dishes to Chicago's diners-out and bons vivants as well as to notables of the theatrical, operatic and literary worlds. It was the first Italian restaurant in town. And it is still at the old stand, the same today as it was almost half a century ago; but alas — Mme. Galli is now with God. She died in 1915 and her daughter-in-law, Mme. America Galli, has been carrying on the business ever since, and with as much success.

The story of Mme. Carmelinda Galli, founder of this nationally-known restaurant, is a romance of Tower Town. In fact, the near north side art colony, centering around the old Chicago Avenue water tower, had its birth in Mme. Galli's little old three-story brick house just across the river from the Loop. Born in Lucca, Italy, of well-to-do parents, she came to Chicago in 1883 with her husband and children. When her husband died shortly afterwards, she was left in straitened circumstances and was forced to take in boarders in her little house in East Illinois Street.

These boarders were mostly poor starving artists and writers and she fed them spaghetti, having learned how to cook it in a special way from the old family cook in sunny Italy. She did not open a restaurant, however, until after an episode involving a group of actors and actresses from abroad, who were playing in Chicago in the Eighties. It seems they threatened to go back to their native heath unless they could find a spaghetti restaurant in Chicago. A stage hand who boarded at Mme. Galli's told them about her wonderful spaghetti. They immediately flocked to her boarding house, her fame grew with a bound, and shortly afterward she put in several more long tables and opened a restaurant.

But although she grew in worldly fortune, Mme. Galli never forgot the poor artists, writers and musicians of the bohemian quarter. When she died sixteen years ago at the age of sixty-six years, Tower Town mourned her as "The Queen of Bohemia."

During its long existence, Mme. Galli's has made history. It was a surprise to us to learn that Rotary was born here (H. L. Mencken, please note). "It was in this restaurant, on Feb. 23, 1905, that Paul P. Harris, a Chicago attorney, paused over a dish of spaghetti and mentioned his idea of Rotary to an interested listener, Sylvester Schiele," wrote Frank J. Cipriani, of the Chicago Tribune. Here, also, in the Gay Nineties, came Eugene Field, "the children's poet," with a bunch of cronies from the old Chicago Daily News office; another literary light of that time who first learned how to eat spaghetti here was George Ade, and nowadays he never comes to town from his Indiana farm without having a "feed" at Mme. Galli's. George Horton wrote a good portion of his Chicago novel, "The Long Straight Road," in this place, and he devotes considerable space in it to a description of the restaurant. In later years there came such significant figures in American literature as William Marion Reedy and Edgar Lee Masters. Always, the local literary and other critics have frequented the place — Llewellyn Jones and Susan Wilbur, of the Post; C. J. Buillet, art critic of the Post; and Howard Vincent O'Brien, of the Daily News.

One of the proud possessions of the family is a large caricature drawing, hanging on the wall, of Mme. Galli, made by the great Caruso in 1910. This was the favorite Chicago dining place of the opera singer. Other singers and conductors from the opera came here — Francesca Daddi, Toscanini, Campanini, Rimini and Tito Schipa. Such stage and screen stars as Leon Errol, Bernard Granville, Al Jolscn, Jane Cowl, Will Rogers, Buster Keaton, Raymond Hitchcock, W. C. Fields, Elsie Janis, Ann Pennington, Ina Claire and Moran and Mack eat or have eaten at Mme. Galli's board. Framed and autographed photographs of many of these personages hang from the walls. Here, too, the late Eddie Foy first met his wife, who was one of Mme. Galli's boarders. Located near the old Criminal Courts Building and County Jail, Mme. Galli's was also the rendezvous of eminent judges — Marcus Kavanaugh, Theodore Brentano and the late Frank Comer ford.

There are scores of other distinguished people who have eaten, or continue to eat, in this little unpretentious place, but Mme. America Galli (who, by the way, was born here) does not keep a guest book and cannot recall all of them.

Mme. Galli's is of particular interest to us, however, because nowhere this side of Naples can you get better spaghetti. It is served with a sauce that has made the house famous, the recipe of which old Mme. Galli refused to sell to the Heinz company for a not unflattering figure. They have no menu here, the customer merely being asked his choice of entrees — chicken, squab, filet mignon, or lamb chops. The whole dinner includes an appetizer, soup, spaghetti, the entree, salad, cheese and apples, or the delicious Italian ice cream, spumoni. As prepared by Chef Orazio Monti, who possesses the Galli family secrets in regard to cuisine, this dinner explains the reason why so many notable people are seen here almost any evening.

Mme. Galli's Italian

18 East Illinois Street

Open for luncheon and dinner

Table d^hote only. Luncheon, 75 cents, Dinner, $1.50

Maitresse d'hotel: Mme. America Galli




1931 - 1931



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