Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Pump Room Restaurant, inside the Ambassador East Hotel, was Famous for Catering to Mid-20th Century Celebrities.

Back in the 1930s, when people regularly traveled across the country via train, they usually had a 10-hour layover in Chicago. In later years, when celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, and Phyllis Diller ended up in Chicago, they made a night of it; and dining at the famous Pump Room inside the Ambassador East Hotel, 1301 N State Pkwy, Chicago, was an essential part of that.
Booth One at the Pump Room, Chicago.
The Pump Room opened on October 1, 1938, by Ernie Byfield. At the restaurant, the biggest stars of the day had the ultimate social-status symbol waiting for them -- Booth Number One. Ernie Byfield, a famous hotelier, and restaurateur who would personally pick up celebrities at the train station. “This was the place where all the VIPs were,” says Rich Melman, who owned the restaurant in the 1970s and 1980s and ran it until June of 2019. 
Ambassador East Hotel - Pump Room, Chicago. 
“If they didn’t want to be seen, they wouldn’t go to the Pump Room.” Amenities included reserved seating in a cream-colored leather booth in the corner famously referred to as Booth One. The banquette was reserved only for the crème de la crème. Even if the wait for the restaurant was long, Booth One would remain vacant until a VIP worthy of it — such as Sammy Davis Jr. or Marlene Dietrich —arrived.
Liz Taylor at the Pump Room, Chicago. (1960)
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood at the Pump Room in Chicago.
The table’s occupants also received access to a rotary phone connected directly to the booth so they could make and receive calls as they dined. “There was a private number that you could call to reach Booth One,” Melman says. “That wasn’t given out very often. But celebrities knew it.” Movie star Joan Crawford, who preferred to be left alone while dining, would place a call and then wrap the long cord across the table as a sort of caution tape to others in the restaurant. 
Marilyn Monroe at the Pump Room, 1959.
Phyllis Diller at the Pump Room, 1959.
Those who preferred face-to-face attention over a ringing phone would unplug it from the wall jack. “The phone was part of a big game,” Melman says. “Often people would pay what was considered big money in those days to be paged at the Pump Room.”
Carole Lombard and Clark Gable - between trains 1930s - in the Pump Room, Chicago. 
The Phil Collins 1985 album title "No Jacket Required" (Deluxe 2 hour  ed.) is a reference to an incident involving Collins and Robert Plant at the Pump Room restaurant in Chicago. Collins, who wasn't wearing a jacket, wasn't allowed in the restaurant because he didn't meet the dress code.
While the hotel and restaurant have cycled through multiple owners and face-lifts — and celebrities no longer have to layover in Chicago — Booth One has stayed alive. The last iteration of the Pump Room, a nostalgic restaurant that once drew celebrities, closed in 2017. After a substantial refurbishment, the Pump Room has been revived and renamed Booth One, complete with a rotary phone installed in its VIP booth. If a guest chooses, he or she could still use it while dining on beef Wellington and cheesecake — although Melman says, diners usually prefer to use their cell phones.

“We are trying to resurrect something that disappeared in Chicago for a while,” Melman says. “It’s the type of room that needs a lot of hand-holding, and for a time it didn’t get the attention it needed. It lost some of its luster.

After almost two and a half years in Gold Coast, Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises group, "Booth One" restaurant, inside the 285-room Ambassador Chicago Hotel, closed at the end of June 2019. 

1926 The 285-room Ambassador East hotel opens in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

1938 Restaurateur Ernie Byfield opens the Pump Room Restaurant in the hotel.

2010 Real estate developer Ian Schrager—known for cofounding New York’s Studio 54—buys the Ambassador East for $25 million.

2011 Assets from the Ambassador East, including its famous rotary phone, are auctioned off as part of the hotel’s liquidation sale. The hotel is remodeled and reopens as Public Chicago.

2016 Schrager sells Public Chicago to investors Shapack Partners and Gaw Capital for $61.5 million.

2017 The hotel is renamed, Ambassador Chicago. Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises group, which formerly owned the Pump Room, returns to manage the space and renames it Booth One. After a remodel, the team installs a rotary phone at the famed table from which the restaurant now takes its name.

2019 Ambassador Chicago Hotel, closed at the end of the year. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

1 comment:

  1. My MIL's uncle Jim Hart, was manager of the Pump Room in the 1940s. My SIL famously unplugged a call Jack Benny was on in Booth One. Mr. Benny thought it was funny and my SIL was cute as a button.


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