Recollections of Bygone Times: Chicago 1986





By Philip Vidal



Cricket’s, 100 E. Chestnut Street. Photo by Peter  Le Grand , courtesy of AVENUE M Publisher Frank Sullivan. 

Some still believe that Marcel Proust was inspired to write a novel after munching madeleines.  I had not dined on Chicago-style deep dish pizza in many years until relatives from Germany came to visit. No sooner had the warm, slightly sweet tomato sauce touched my lips than I was pulled back to a recollection of a dinner at Giordano’s with good friends.  So deep dish pizza inspired this fictitious letter, set in 1986, to an imagined out-of-town friend Anne.  She asked for my recommendations for an upcoming trip to Chicago with her husband. I chose 1986 because that was the year I moved into the little Chicago neighborhood north of Chicago and east of Michigan Avenue.  I hope you enjoy this bit of nostalgia and much as I enjoyed writing it.   I would like to thank all those who shared their rememberings with me, especially Mitch Cobey and Janet Reali.


Chez Paul, 660 N. Rush Street. Photo by Courtney Contos.

Golden Ox, 1578 Clybourn Ave.

Don Roth’s Blackhawk, 139 N. Wabash Ave, famous for its spinning salad bowl.

Printer’s Row, 550 S. Dearborn St.

Sunday, June 1, 1986

Dear Anne,

You will appreciate me typing this letter because, as you know, my handwriting is atrocious and cannot be read, even by me.  And I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, I pulled my electric typewriter out, started typing and just kept on going.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that you and Fred are coming to Chicago for a long weekend to celebrate your anniversary!  I am delighted that you are staying with me rather than in a hotel.  June is a great time of the year to visit Chicago. My condo is within walking distance of some of the best shopping and restaurants in the city.  I will give you a set of keys, so you can come and go as you please. Taxis are plentiful.  There is always the “green limousine,” aka a CTA bus. There is a Howard line subway station nearby at Chicago Avenue and State Street.  The Chicago station is an “AB” stop so all trains stop there.

Your Eastern Airlines flight is scheduled to arrive at O’Hare at 3:00 pm on Thursday, June 19. I will meet you at the gate, then drive to my apartment.  For future reference, you might want to compare the fares on Midway Airlines, the no-frills airline that flies in and out of Midway.

I know I might be getting old for the circus, but I enjoy it and have been high-handed and bought tickets for us to the 7:00 PM performance of the Shriner’s Circus at Medinah Temple on Wabash between Ontario and Ohio.

We should have a fairly quick meal before the circus and I can pick-up some prepared foods from Mitchel Cobey Cuisine, which is just down the block on East Walton.  He has a marvelous selection of cheeses. I love his curried chicken salad. If you’d prefer Italian, I can pick-up a few things at Convito Italiano in the Chestnut Street Galleria.  Let me know what kind of wine you like and I’ll stock up with some vino from Bragno’s on Walton and Rush. If I have time that morning, I can pick up few things downtown at the Stop & Shop on Randolph.  They always have exotic produce.  If you’d like something a bit more substantial, there are lots of options in the neighborhood, including Papa Milano’s at State and Oak for pasta.

You wanted to have a facial and your hair done early Friday morning.  I’m not up on women’s spas and hair salons, but I’ve heard good things about the facials at Georgette Klinger in Water Tower Place. There’s a Vidal Sassoon Salon next to Georgette Klinger.  There are also several hair salons along Oak Street.  I go to Paul Glick in the Allerton Hotel.  If Fred needs some freshening up or a shave, there’s a great old-fashioned barber shop in the Drake Hotel.

You asked for recommendations for a place in the neighborhood for a long lunch on Friday with your Immaculata High School alumnae.  Cricket’s in the Tremont Hotel would be my first choice.  Pronto Ristorante in the Seneca Hotel is nice.  They make fresh pasta right in the front window.  If you’d prefer crepes, try the Magic Pan on Walton.  You also asked where you could do some shopping with your girlfriends after lunch. Not my interest, but I’ve heard that Ultimo on Oak Street and Stanley Korshak on Michigan are terrific.  Bonwit Teller in the Hancock is small, but it has a well-curated selection, so I am told.  I. Magnin is just a block south and across the street at Michigan and Pearson and has a California feel.

Fred and I will get a quick bite at Hamburger Hamlet on Walton or a sandwich at the Service Entrance on Chestnut. To get us in the mood for skeet shooting, which Fred insists we do, we might head to Café Bohemia, near Union Station. Café Bohemia’s specialty is game, and sometimes they have big game (lion, bear, moose) on the menu.  After lunch, if the weather is good, we’ll head to the Lincoln Park Gun Club at Diversey and the lake.  He doesn’t need to bring a gun.  He can borrow one of mine.  If the weather is bad, there’s a polo game at the Chicago Avenue Armory, just a few blocks south of my apartment.

Late Friday afternoon, I’d like to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art on East Ontario.  We can briefly poke our noses into a reception at the Alliance Francaise/Maison Francaise that’s across the street.

You asked me to recommend an ethnic restaurant for Friday night’s dinner.  Of course, there are several German restaurants…the Golden Ox, Zum Deutschen Eck, Heidelberger Fass, and Schwaben Stube. The Red Star Inn has moved up to Irving and the Kennedy.  Chinatown has dozens of Chinese restaurants, but I really enjoy one close to home, the House of Hunan on Michigan Avenue. There are dozens of Greek restaurants along and just off Halsted, west of downtown.  Deni’s Den on Clark Street is fun. It’s a Greek place with live music. The Casbah on Diversey has marvelous Armenian food.  I haven’t been there, but friends have recommended the varenykys (Ukrainian filled dumplings) at Galans on Chicago Avenue.

Some people like the Yugo Inn on Ashland for Yugoslavian food, but my #1 choice for Friday’s dinner would be Miomir’s Serbian Club on Lawrence. It’s a supper club with live music.  Miomir, the owner, is an engaging guy.  I love the grilled cevaps, little skinless sausages.

Fred mentioned that he would like to do some clothes shopping and asked for recommendations.  Saturday afternoon would probably be a good time.  Bigsby & Kruthers in Water Tower Place and Mark Shale just around the corner on Michigan Avenue have stylish men’s clothes. If he’s looking for something a bit more conservative, Brittany LTD on Michigan is a good bet. Downtown, there’s Capper & Capper, a Brooks Brothers on Madison, Baskin and Marshall Field on the State Street Mall.  The State Street Mall was supposed to fix this, but Downtown is dead on Saturdays, so there probably won’t be many places open for lunch.  Too bad, because I really enjoy Le Bordeaux, Nick’s Fishmarket on the First National Plaza, and Don Roth’s Blackhawk on Wabash, which is famous for its spinning salad bowl (don’t try this at home!).

Should I steer Fred into C.D. Peacock’s in the Palmer House to get you some jewelry for your anniversary?  I know that Fred loves books.  Marshall Field has a Rare Book Department he might like.  Kroch’s and Brentano’s and B. Dalton have their main branches on Wabash.  Closer to home there’s a Stuart Brent on Michigan Avenue and a Rizzoli in Water Tower Place.

You also asked me to recommend a special place for dinner on Saturday for just the two of you.  Jean Banchet’s Le Francais is one of the best restaurants in the country, but it’s in Wheeling near Palwaukee Airport, which is a bit of a hike.  Closer is Café Provencal in Evanston.  The owner, Leslee Reis, is charming and welcoming. Ask to sit in the main dining room that’s done in a country French style. You can borrow my car, or it might be better to hire a car and driver to take you there and back.

There are plenty of options in the city.  Jimmy’s Place is terrific.  It’s on Elston, a short ride north.  Be forewarned, the proprietor, Jimmy Rohr, can’t tolerate perfume or cologne.  A quick cab ride north are Ambria in the Belden Stratford Hotel and Tango in the Belmont Hotel. A huge Andy Warhol painting of Mao looks over Tango’s dining room.  Michael Foley’s Printers Row restaurant in the up and coming Printer’s Row neighborhood on Dearborn just south of Congress is good.  If you want to go somewhere within walking distance, you might try Ciel Bleu on the top floor of the Mayfair Regent hotel just around the corner on East Lake Shore Drive.  I still enjoy the Shrimp de Jonghe (warning: it’s loaded with garlic) at Chez Paul, which is in a former McCormick mansion on Rush.  Avanzare is a very stylish Northern Italian restaurant on the southwest corner of Huron and St. Clair.

Chicago is a steak town.  A couple of steakhouses nearby are The Palm in the Mayfair Regent, Arnie’s at State and Maple, and Hy’s of Canada, just down the street on Walton.  Eli’s-The Place for Steak is just a few blocks away on Chicago Avenue.  They’re noted for their cheesecake. Chateaubriand for two at La Cheminee on Dearborn near Division would make a romantic meal. Jovan Trboyevic’s Le Perroquet, just down the block on Walton, is superb.  Maggie Abbott, Jovan’s wife, did the murals. Jovan also owns Les Nomades.  It’s a private club (dues are $1 per annum), and I am a member so I can probably get you in if you’d like to try it for dinner, but Jovan is a stickler on correct manners, so you would need to behave.  My top pick would be Gordon on Clark and Illinois.  Order the artichoke fritters with hollandaise as an appetizer and a flourless chocolate cake for dessert.  Make sure to order the cake early in the meal as it takes time to prepare.

If you two want to hit a few night spots after dinner, I’d recommend Rick’s Café American, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase in the Blackstone, or Milt Trenier’s, which is just west on Rush.

I’d like to take it easy on Sunday morning, but if you’d like to do something, feel free to borrow the car and head to the Maxwell Street Market near Roosevelt and Halsted. You need to get there early, and don’t venture too far from the market.  The surrounding areas can be rough.   On Sunday afternoon, we have several options.  We could go to the Art Institute.  Chicago has a vibrant off-Loop theater scene.  I’ll check if there’s a Sunday matinee at The Body Politic Theater or American Theater Company.  Perhaps we can see a new movie that was shot in Chicago and the burbs called “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.” It’s going to hit movie theaters sometime this month. There are several movie theaters nearby: The Esquire on Oak, Carnegie on Rush, Water Tower Place and the McClurg Court Theater.  I’ll see where and when it’s playing.

Your Eastern Airlines flight back to Atlanta leaves early Monday morning, so an early dinner on Sunday is probably best.  We could head down the street to the Drake Hotel and have dinner at the Cape Cod Room or Club International.  Or we can have a simple dinner at Acorn on Oak, with a wonderful martini.  They also have great burgers. If you don’t mind, on Monday morning I’ll put you in a cab to O’Hare so that I can head straight to work.

Feel free to give me a call and we can finalize plans.  So looking forward to seeing you and Fred in just a few weeks!