For eleven successful years, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse flourished as one of Chicago’s favorite steakhouses before remnants of Nitti’s gangster past started to appear. His lifetime of secrets was uncovered suddenly in 1990 when an electrician hit a hole in the wall that revealed a hidden room spanning the width of the upstairs bar. This room, and the Nitti’s secret possessions discovered within it, are still in the basement of Harry Caray’s for you to see. Head through the bar and down the stairway that says “Nitti’s Vault” to begin your adventure through Nitti’s life of crime.
As you step down the century-old stairs toward Nitti’s infamous vault, you’ll see actual photos from Nitti’s life. One of them was reported to be from Nitti’s wedding where Al Capone stood up as the Best Man. The discovery aired on WGN Channel 9 News but, shortly after it aired, the restaurant received threatening phone calls stating that the groom was actually Paul “The Waiter” Ricca and “not that rat Nitti!”
One of the most exciting findings was a large safe buried in the basement walls. Ready to unlock Nitti’s valuable treasures, the restaurant group hired an expert safe cracker to break through the safe’s three layers of security –so strong that it could withstand a bomb blast. Unfortunately, they did not find any money hidden inside.
In the life of a mobster, it’s important to keep tabs on everybody and anybody, so the restaurant group wasn’t surprised to find Nitti’s personal address book buried within the basement walls. It listed the home addresses and phone numbers of powerful government officials and mobsters –presumably to run “errands” for the sake of Capone’s gang. You can see it for yourself by looking through the jail-like sliding window.
Also behind that window is the most shocking discovery of all: a hidden room spanning the length of the upstairs bar. Thought to have been built in 1895, this room was used as a hideout during the Prohibition era as well as a passageway to Chicago’s underground tunnel system, allowing Nitti and his associates to come and go without being seen on the streets of Chicago.
Nitti lived in an apartment on the building's fourth floor from 1939 until his death by suicide in 1943. It conveniently offered a view of the Courthouse so he could keep an eye on things. When you watch the video below, note the grooves in his apartment door that were presumed to be indentations from batons used by policemen who attempted to break into his home.
Next time you’re at Harry Caray’s, tell the bartender “Nitti sent me” for a special drink not listed on the menu.