BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
As at least three of Chicago private clubs have added intimate and imaginative boîtes or bars for cocktails after work and limited menu dining, the 130-year-old University Club has gone even further in taking over 14,000 square feet from The University Club Professional Building, its Michigan Avenue next-door neighbor, as an incredible nod to current laid back and more casually-driven lifestyles.
The Parliament, which features a 1,500-square-foot infinity rooftop deck overlooking Millennium Park, illustrates that members want casual dress; outdoor, late night, and weekend dining; and beautifully curated art-filled spaces with incredible views. Chef Mark Baker has provided an all-new menu that’s inventive, fresh, and contemporary for The Parliament’s new restaurant, open until midnight. Even so, the light bites in The Living Room are not to be missed.
Board member Louis Magaglione explained:
“We really listen closely to our membership, and they’ve given us the clear indication that what they want most is a connected, casual space where they can wear jeans and enjoy expanded outdoor dining and places to quietly work during the day. Whether it’s millennials, retirees, or the wide group who fall in between, members want their club to reflect how they live their lives today.”
Both The Parliament and the members’ lounge, appropriately called The Living Room, were alive with activity when we visited recently in the late afternoon. Throughout the day, members can order light bites and an exciting array of beverages in the energy-filled Living Room, which, in addition to floor-to-ceiling bookcases, stunning modern art curation, comfortable and plentiful seating, and beautiful views, also features appropriately placed large screen TVs to catch a game or see the latest headlines. The Living Room is a comfortable and casual space to gather, entertain, connect, relax, and, if the spirit moves you, to put in some quiet work along the way.
Upon entering the multimillion-dollar new seventh and the eighth floors from the main club house, the welcoming gothic barrel vault ceilings, oak milled paneling, and owls embedded in the tiles as symbols of wisdom pay tribute to the legacy of The Club at Monroe and Michigan, completed in 1909 and still the hub of the club.
As Club President, Cliff Schwandner, puts it:
“This expansion of our club was deliberately designed and constructed to feel seamless with our main clubhouse—to converge our gothic architectural legacy with modern design and ambiance. Whether you’re in The Parliament or The Living Room, you never feel like you’ve left the original club structure but just moved into a more casual environment that still possesses our timeless elegance, exceptional service, and best-in-class club experience.
“Our expansion is really one for the ages and, hands down, the most significant thing we’ve done since the original clubhouse was completed in 1909. It truly took everyone to bring this project off successfully: every single staff member; our senior management; my governance partners—and our outside partners in Bulley & Andrews, as General Contractor; our architects Antunovich Associates; and Looney & Associates, the interior designers. Membership response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we have solid momentum going into our new year.”
The new spaces, in many respects, carry on the character of the original twelve-story club built by Holabird & Roche, but in a contemporary way. As the Club’s Chief Financial Officer, Don Cameron, told us:
“Our founders, all university graduates, were also those who began the CSO, the Lyric Opera, The Art Institute, and other important organizations in the early cultural life of our city. They wanted to bring an emphasis on education and culture to Chicago.
“Among those was one of Chicago’s greatest art collectors, Frederic Clay Bartlett, who championed the Club’s intention to display art works and who, in fact, painted the medieval hunt scenes on the Michigan Room ceiling in 1909.
“Many of our members have, over the years, donated many wonderful pieces to the Club. But from the first, there was also a focus on collecting important books, evidenced by our signature library. In their own way, our founders were contemporary, and we’re no less so as we look to the next 130 years of our club.”
Cameron adds, “College or university graduation remains as a basic requirement for membership. Today nearly every business and profession is represented in our membership which totals 3500.”
Former Club President, now current Foundation President, Bill McKenna, noted that the recent opening of the new floors featured a marquis member event:
“Since its early days, the University Club Foundation has provided college and university scholarships for our club’s employees and their children. At our member ‘first look’ in early September, featuring a wine auction and a chance for our membership to experience the new space for the first time, we raised nearly $90,000 for The Foundation, which is a keynote of The Club and of significant and meaningful benefit for the families of our staff.”
The new spaces encourage patronage of all ages, but the number of younger members is growing. The Club has three membership categories for men and women under 36.
The expansion also features several private dining rooms, as well as a small private room with a speakeasy charm called Dry Storage, for perhaps enjoying a little specialty bourbon or scotch, or your favorite wine or draft amongst friends. But on the day we visited, it was the infinity deck dining with its unencumbered view of Millennium Park that was attracting the most attention. The Club’s long time General manager of 35 years, John Spidalette, put it best: “Where else do you have a $500 million park as your front yard?”