Barbara Trent Balin ran the most happening club on the West Side.

Chicago’s Peppermint Lounge was where you did the Boogaloo, the Watusi, the Uncle Willie, the Slop, the Popcorn and the Funky Chicken.

On stage you could see electrifying entertainers, including a little-known group of brothers from Gary. They charged $100 and arrived in a white van that sometimes needed a flat-tire fix. But when the Jackson 5 played at her nightspot at 3219 W. Harrison, people screamed, threw dollar bills and jumped on the chairs.

Mrs. Balin was “a wonderful person, but all business,” said Carl Merritt, a club disc jockey. “She’d be running through [yelling] ‘Get offa my chairs! Get offa my chairs! You ruin my chairs, you’re going to have to pay for them!’ ”

Mrs. Balin and her husband, Abe, owned the Peppermint Lounge, a place that groomed artists and careers. Before YouTube, Spotify and Pandora, hits were created by radio and roadshows. Stars appeared at nightspots such as the Peppermint to promote songs. The audience got to drink them in from just feet away.

There the Temptations danced in their sharp suits, angular and colorful as Mondrian paintings. When the Miracles came, women swooned over Smokey Robinson’s black-sable voice.

The cutest of them all was the Jackson 5.

“I had to hold the women back” from the young Michael Jackson, said retired Chicago police officer Bill “Chico” Freeman, who DJ’d at the club. “They wanted to kiss him. They wanted to get on the stage. They said, ‘He is so cute.’ Oh yeah, I used to pick up money off the stage for [their father] Joe Jackson.”

Mrs. Balin, 85, died in October at a long-term care facility in Winter Springs, Florida, where she had retired, according to the Collison Family Funeral Home & Crematory. Word of her death is still reaching friends and former clubgoers in Chicago. Her husband died in 2012.

“They set a standard for nightclubs,” said Herb Kent, the “Cool Gent” of V103-FM. Like Freeman and Merritt, he was a DJ at the Peppermint Lounge, which operated from about 1965 well into the 1970s.

It was an era more racially and ethnically divided than today, when walking into the wrong club could result in a beatdown. The Peppermint was a welcoming place for African-Americans, along with spots with playful names like the High Chaparral, 7740 S. Stony Island; New Black Orchid, 443 W. 59th; the Bonanza Lounge, 7640 S. Halsted, and Peyton Place, 116 E. 39th.

Mrs. Balin “ran a strict club, no underage people in there,” Freeman said, “and [had] a very good personality, very outgoing with people that patronized the club. Everybody loved her.”

“The atmosphere was fantastic,” said Merritt. “It was just a joy to come to that place. And boy, we had some of the greatest entertainment you would ever want to see.”

Top acts at her lounge included B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jerry “Iceman” Butler, Gene “Duke of Earl” Chandler, the Chi-Lites, the Dells and Chaka Khan, back when she sang with Lock and Chain. Motown sent a lot of stars, including Tammi Terrell, Joe Tex and Mary Wells. Brothers Verdine and Maurice White played there before becoming the nucleus of Earth, Wind & Fire.

The club also hosted Donny Hathaway, whose supple, soulful vocals influenced Alicia Keyes and John Legend. The crowd didn’t warm up until a woman who dueted famously with Hathaway got onstage, Merritt said. “Donny, he was up there doing a show, and a lady walked up to me and said, ‘Would it be OK if I sang a couple of songs?’ ’’

“To make a long story short, it was Miss Roberta Flack,” Merritt said. “She got up there and sang four or five songs and the place went wild.”

After the show, Merritt went to the dressing room to pay the songstress. “She said, ‘If you could get me a slab of barbecue, I might be able to be paid in full,’ ’’ he said. “There was a barbecue place right around the corner at Kedzie and Harrison.” He brought back ribs, and “That lady took off her shoes, started wiggling her feet and she started eating that whole slab of barbecue, and she said, ‘Carl, I’m paid in full.’ ’’

It was a place to see and be seen. “Everyone had big, round naturals and stacks in their shoes,” Kent said.

Mrs. Balin was one of the most fashionable of all. “She was always a little bit ahead” of street style, said her sister-in-law, Lorraine Balin. And “she had great legs.” She was featured in a 1971 New York Times story about the flamboyant clothing at the so-called “Fight of the Century,” the Madison Square Garden match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Mrs. Balin “had to be careful when she walked so she wouldn’t trip over her floor-length suede vest, which she wore over beige suede hot pants,” the article said.

Her lounge had a big wooden dance floor. “We had psychedelic lights we could operate,” said Gordon Frierson, a DJ. The club and waitress’ uniforms featured red and white stripes, like peppermint candy.

Customers were so devoted, Freeman said, that during the blizzard of 1967 “two girls showed up in the snow. You couldn’t even walk in the street.”

For drinks, “We used to get a ‘Poor Boy’ — that’s a half pint of gin,” Freeman said. “Put it in a highball glass, and whatever you wanted to mix it with, 7-Up,” came alongside.

After closing the club, the Balins, who lived for a time in Beverly, dealt in antiques, friends said.

From Chicago Sun Times