The Pump Room: Star Studded Chicago Dining Landmark

In: Food and Drink

26 Oct 2010

Long a hangout of A-list celebrities, the Pump Room Restaurant in Chicago is still ‘hopping’ in the 21st century. The restaurant, memorialized in Frank Sinatra’s classic “Chicago”, was one of the first high level restaurants to open in Chicago after the Prohibition era. The eatery has seen countless celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, John Barrymore and countless others. For a while, it’s luster faded somewhat as the dining scene in Chicago led by Charlie Trotter passed it by.

The Pump Room opened in’38 under the ownership and management of Ernie Blyfield. He took the name from an 18th century London pub favored by celebrities and nobility, including Queen Anne. The original pub got its name from the hot drinks pumped into the cocktails of its stylish clientele.

Blyfied’s Chicago Pump Room took off immediately, and its most sought after table–‘Booth 1′ may have been the most desired spot of any dining establishment in the country for a time. Booth 1 was occupied by Sinatra and cronies like Jilly Rizzo, Judy Garland and daughter Liza Minnelli, Clark Gable, John Barrymore as well as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

After Blyfield’s death in’50, the Pump Room lived on as a Chicago hot spot and welcomed a new era of big names including Mel Brooks, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Eddie Murphy. One of the most famous stories surrounding the club involves former Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who was refused entry for not wearing a jacket. This inspired the title of his next album ‘No Jacket Required’ which has sold over– million copies worldwide and established Collins as a solo superstar. Following its release, the Pump Room sent Collins an apology–and an appropriate jacket for him to wear on his next visit.

Since being purchased by the Dallas Restaurant Group in the late’90s, things are hopping again, however. With the extremely talented chef Martial Noguier at the helm (who has worked in the kitchen of a number of Frances most renown chefs), and a $2 million dollar restoration of the facilities, the Pump Room is back among the rarefied heights of Chicagos best restaurants. Though the flaming food served on a sword that was the Pump Room trademark during its golden era is sadly absent (due to city fire codes), the menu is now up to snuff serving Noguiers sophisticated interpretation of classic American cuisine. In addition to the revamped cuisine, the Pump Room upgraded its wine offering and expanded the bar area.

Current Executive Chef Nick Sutton has continued the restaurant’s tradition of excellence. The big draw of the Pump Room, however, remains the amazing sense of history that the dining room offers. The realization that a who’s who of civilized American culture from Bogart and Clark Gable to Sinatra and Jackie Gleason broke bread in the room is a pretty amazing vibe. The good news is that the Pump Room again offers the quality of food and service worthy of such icons, and is a victory for culinary excellence amid the national infestation of mediocre chain restaurants.

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