Chicago South Side Irish Neighborhoods: Facts vs. Shameless

Ever wonder which Chicago neighborhood the characters of Shameless call home?

Shameless claims to be set on the South Side of Chicago, but where on the South Side of Chicago? The “South Side” is a big place, encompassing roughly 60% of the city’s land area, and is made up of 42 of the 77 Chicago neighborhoods; each one unique in its own cultures and way of life.

Referencing the addresses of the filming locations doesn’t offer much guidance. The houses that are used for exterior shots are located at “2119 S. Homan” in the West Side neighborhood of North Lawndale.

North Lawndale, West Side, Chicago

The fictional address of the Gallagher house “2119 N. Wallace” would be located on the North Side of the city – if there was such a street as “North Wallace Street.” However, the only “Wallace Street” in Chicago exists south of Archer Avenue, on the South Side. Why not use “2119 S. Wallace” then?

Perhaps the decision was made to discourage fanatics from loitering and tramping around someone’s real house (not that this doesn’t occur daily outside of the houses they use for exteriors). If prohibited from using an actual listed residential address, Shameless writers could’ve imagined a fake number on “S. Wallace.”

Logistically, this would be a wise move as it is a street which runs through, not only the South Side of Chicago, but through the boundaries of two traditionally Irish-American blue collar neighborhoods (Bridgeport and Canaryville). The fictional Gallagher family could believably reside in either one of the two.

Canaryville entrance from Halsted

Canaryville, Chicago

Back of the Yards/Canaryville, Chicago

Recently, in season 6, we hear characters specifically mention the Back of the Yards community. Canaryville is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chicago, located within the Back of the Yards, and has a reputation for hostility to outsiders.

Canaryville is credited as the birthplace of Chicago’s street gang culture. Much of Canaryville’s reputation, whether fairly attributed to it or not, coincides with the way the Shameless neighborhood is portrayed on television.

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “Canaryville” enjoyed a reputation as one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city from the late nineteenth through much of the twentieth century. A largely Irish-American community on the South Side adjacent to Bridgeport, it stretches from 40th to 47th Street between Wentworth Avenue and Halsted. Given its close proximity to the stockyards, the area’s physical environment and economic life were shaped by livestock and meatpacking from the 1860s until the industry’s decline in the postwar era.

Canaryville residential street

Canaryville’s name may have derived from the legions of sparrows who populated the area at the end of the nineteenth century, feeding off stockyard refuse and grain from railroad cars, but the term was also applied to the neighborhood’s rambunctious youth, its “wild canaries.”

Bridgeport entrance from Halsted

Bridgeport, Chicago

Bridgeport, Chicago

Located just north of Canaryville, much of the Bridgeport neighborhood was also initially an Irish-American enclave. In the 1830s, large numbers of immigrants from Ireland started settling in this working-class neighborhood. Although the Irish are Bridgeport’s oldest and arguably most famous ethnic group, Bridgeport has also been home to a large number of other groups including many Ukranian-Americans and Lithuanian-Americans settled along Lituanica Avenue, which runs between 31st Street and 38th Place one block west of Halsted Street.

Similar to the notoriety of Canaryville, Bridgeport has a history of gang violence erupting between lower income immigrant groups, competing for limited industrial jobs, and spilling over from the community slums surrounding The Union Stockyards. Territories were drawn separating one ethnic group from another. On one such dividing line was the New National Auditorium frequently used as a wedding hall, nicknamed the “Bucket of Blood.” The name originated as a result of frequent fist fights that would break out between different groups after the parties got drunk.

But, with the decline of the meatpacking and manufacturing industries, some of the gang members from that era dispersed or eventually became involved in government work such as police officers and politicians. Between the gangs and the politics in this neighborhood gave rise to some of Chicago’s most corrupt politicians that worked hand and hand with Irish organized crime.

In recent years, gang activity has started to downturn further as trendier restaurants, coffee houses, and art galleries popped up attracting a hipster community. Bridgeport is on track to becoming one of the next gentrified neighborhoods on the South Side which falls in line with story lines explored on Shameless.

Sign hanging in Bernice’s Tavern, Bridgeport, Chicago

The Alibi of Bridgeport

Bernice’s Tavern, 3238 S. Halsted Street, Chicago

Deserving an honorable mention is Bernice’s Tavern located at Halsted and 32nd Street. Housed in a nondescript brick building, with only a small window displaying an illuminated beer sign and a green door, the bar has been a family owned establishment since 1965.

The local watering hole caters mostly to the neighborhood regulars and is equipped with a buzzer behind the bar to allow patrons in or, to keep them out. According to Steve Badauskas, the owner of Bernice’s, the buzzer went in because of the neighborhood’s violence and racial tensions in the late 1960s. But, is mostly just a novelty today.

Inside Bernice’s Tavern, 3238 S. Halsted St, Chicago

Crossing the threshold into Bernice’s feels like slipping into another era. It’s not difficult to imagine that the place has, for the most part, remained unchanged since it first opened in the ’60s. Adorned with aged photographs, handwritten notes, original sketches by the bartender, and signs declaring the “rules” (such as “Cash Only!”) are stapled to the walls; a clutter of dusty nick knacks and other treasures collected over the bar’s long history are piled up on shelves.

Inside Bernice’s Tavern, 3238 S. Halsted St, Chicago

While Bernice’s Tavern is unconfirmed as the original inspiration behind The Alibi in Shameless,  they share an uncanny resemblance in character that is hard to ignore. Even the interior walls of Bernice’s are painted a shade of red similar to The Alibi.

Perhaps the most eerie coincidence is that Bernice’s really was awarded in 2005, Chicago’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the Windy City, by Jonathan Stockton, ranking in the top 10 best Chicago dive bars.

Attempting to pinpoint the exact South Side neighborhood the producer’s of Shameless had in mind is probably an exercise in futility. Between fictional addresses that could never exist on the South Side, to filming locations on the West Side, and street names blurted out by characters that are only on the North Side, there are too many inconsistencies to conclude for certain where one might find the Gallagher’s and the Milkovich’s. However, it’s probably no stretch of the imagination to assume that they reside somewhere between the boundaries of Canaryville and Bridgeport. I’m sure you can also find them sitting at the bar in Bernice’s Tavern.