When We Ate in Restaurants

       Before RL, There Was Cricket’s


A photograph illustrating one of the many articles about Cricket’s during its reign as Chicago’s premier restaurant.





By Megan McKinney



Remember restaurants? They were places we joined friends for lunch and sometimes dinner before the lockdown—we did great spots like RL, Gibson’s and Tortoise Supper Club. But before that, long before, there was Cricket’s in the Tremont Hotel, which was then Chicago’s “only” place to eat publicly. Designed by Chicago interior designer Annie Gray, Cricket’s was patterned after ‘21’ Club in New York.

 ‘21’ Club.

Annie, who was also a devoted Cricket’s patron, duplicated the naïve checked tablecloths for the super sophisticated restaurant and hung similar big boy corporate toys from the ceiling, making Cricket’s as popular in Chicago as ‘21’ in New York.

Cricket’s Maître d’ Jean-Pierre Lutz.

If you had any hope of being seated in the front third of the restaurant, the man to know at Cricket’s was the charming Frenchman Jean-Pierre Lutz. Otherwise, it was best to go home or to another restaurant.

General Manager Nancy Jennings.

Maître d’ Jean-Pierre Lutz decided where you sat, but it was General Manager Nancy Jennings (now Kelley) who had the PR fire in her soul to make things happen. Big things.

This ad, paid for by Saks Fifth Avenue and/or Judith Leiber, should convey some idea of how powerful the Cricket’s brand was considered by the seriously chic.

Frank Sullivan’s AVENUE M featured Cricket’s on the cover of its October 1989 issue. The couple in the foreground is seated at the second best table in the house. It was surpassed only by a table in the southeast corner—the best table “Midwest of the Hudson.”

Author, publicist and girl-about-several-towns Sugar Rautbord, left, with Annie Gray, who designed the ‘21’ look for Cricket’s interior. Both were regulars. 

Other regulars included Lord and Lady Wedgwood.

Designer Becky Bisoulis.

And, of course, Cynthia Olson.

Jonathon Brandmeier, between Zarada Gowenlock, left, and Nancy Jennings, was—and possibly still is—a wildly popular radio disc jockey. It was considered quite a hoot when he held a contest for listeners who vied to win a lunch with the swells at Cricket’s. Actually, the swells at Cricket’s probably had more fun that day than the winning Brandmeier listeners.

Serious regulars Nancy Klimley, left and Barbara Burrell, right, bracket Cynthia Olson, in shades, and Nancy Jennings.

Abra Prentice Anderson Wilkin is known for many things (all good) and among them is her collection of shoes. During one of the periodic ceremonies to add to the hanging toys, Abra was asked to contibute a shoe.

And there it was—for a while.

Then, it simply vanished, reportedly lifted by a very tall, quirky individual. Fortunately, Abra had a duplicate shoe.

Credit: Kay Whitfield Photography

Hazel Barr leaving Cricket’s after one of those long, long lunches.

Credit: Kay Whitfield Photography

Followed by an energetic Bonnie Swearingen.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo by Robert F. Carl