Chicago has always been known for their culinary restaurants and clubs. There was a period I call the golden era of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
For those of us who were around at that time, who can forget the Chez Paree nightclub and restaurant? Located at 610 N. Fairbanks Court located at the edge of the loop, it opened in 1932 and closed in 1960. That was the place to be seen or to see some of the country’s biggest celebrities having dinner. In fact the restaurant was so popular it drew some of Chicago’s most influential mob names of that era
The biggest draw was that the greatest names in the entertainment industry performed there or were there as a dining customer. For example, for those who remember the great Tony Martin, he often appeared at the Chez. You could enjoy the show and dinner for $4.95 which believe it or not was a huge sum in that period of time! (Tony was also known as the husband of the fabulous Cyd Charise, a star in her own right) Owned by Mike Fritzel and Joe Jacobson, the Chez Paree was sold to a group of investors in 1949.
Mike Fritzel also owned the restaurant bearing his name at 201 N. State St. at Lake St. Fritzel’s was the place to be for the wheeler dealers of that period. In an earlier column I spoke about my experience with Louis B. Mayer and Maj. General Julius Klein, a regular at Fritzel’s. Still one of the great memories of my youth.
The late Irv Kupcinet had his own booth with a telephone sitting on the table. That’s funny. Remember in those days there were no cell phones or any modern phone technology. It was a plain dial tone landline phone. But it was one of the most important phones to reach “Kup” for a possible mention in his famous Kup’s Column.
Fritzel's served the finest food in Chicago, in my opinion, at that time. It was sold in 1968 and permanently closed in 1972. What a great loss for Chicago.
Now, how can we talk about Chicago Then without mentioning the fabulous Pump Room at the Ambassador East Hotel, 1301N. State Parkway? It was among those night clubs mentioned as another hot spot for celebrity watching and the most famous Booth One reserved for the famous. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra were among the greatest of that era.
In 1953 my late wife and I were treated to a pre wedding dinner as a gift along with Tony Kemp, a Chicago celebrity at that time. Kemp ran late while we looked at the menu and were overwhelmed at the prices. It was our first experience in a club of that stature. I had $15 in my pocket that we thought would be more than sufficient. So there we were waiting and waiting until Tony and his wife arrived. We gave a sigh of relief. How much water can you drink while waiting? We always remembered that fabulous night.
Ernie Byfield opened the Pump Room in 1938 and was a victim of bankruptcy in 1975.
The Pump Room was closed until my dear friend Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertainment You purchased and renovate the Pump Room to its glory. That closed as well. In April 2010, the Ambassador East Hotel was sold to the Ian Schrager Company. It closed in 2011 and was completely remodeled as the Public Chicago Hotel. The Pump Room reopened in fall 2011, with food concepts by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It is now one of the hottest spots in Chicago. On the lower level you will find a gallery of photos, all from the original pump room. If you can name all the celebrities, you remember the original Pump Room.
Memories light the corners of my mind and this memory is special. It was the night at the Pump Room that I got drunk for the only time and my soon to be wife thought she was marrying a drunk. Mercifully, she married me anyway.