Reinventing The Pump Room
Hollywood stars traveled by train in the glamour years of the Hollywood-Chicago connection. Here is Gary Cooper with actress Lupe Vélez. Look out, Gary. She may appear docile, but she wasn’t known as “The Mexican Spitfire” for nothing—and once tried to shoot Coop while he was boarding a similar train.
By Megan McKinney
No doubt about it. Until recently, the restaurant with the most glamorous history in Chicago was The Pump Room of the Ambassador Chicago hotel. Now this exciting room has acquired a name as enticing as the restaurant itself: Booth One.
For those who don’t remember, The Pump Room’s Booth One was the hallowed banquette where every Hollywood star of its most dazzling era lunched or dined when he or she was in Chicago. And they were in Chicago often.
Hollywood-bound Janet Leigh, above, was arriving at the LaSalle Street Station and will soon be on her way to the corner of Goethe Street at North State Parkway and lunch in Booth One. Until the early 1950s, film stars traveling back and forth between New York and LA did so by train, and very elegantly. They would be ticketed for a cross-country Pullman drawing room, compartment or roomette, which would be switched from one luxurious rail line to another in Chicago. Those traveling from east to west would board the New York Central’s 20th Century Limited at Grand Central Station before 6 p.m. and arrive at Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station at 9 a.m. the following day. Almost without fail, the star would be whisked by limousine to the Ambassador East, where—after freshening up in a suite—he or she would take an elevator down for lunch in The Pump Room’s Booth One. The remainder of the journey would be made on the Santa Fe Railway’s Super Chief, leaving from the Dearborn Station, to which the Los Angeles-bound car containing the star’s Pullman suite with his or her luggage, had been re-routed.
Rosalind Russell was going the other direction, arriving from Hollywood on the Super Chief at the Dearborn Station. More often than not, it was one big transcontinental party—two days of deluxe travel in one direction, while wining and dining with peers, followed by another two going the opposite way, punctuated by a pair of Booth One lunches. No wonder superstars were slow to take to the air.
Members of the legendary waitstaff at the old Pump Room.
It wasn’t merely the waiters who were spectacularly turned out. The restaurant was famous for its flaming entrees.
This plumed waiter was Eddie, whose sole task was to serve coffee—on this day to another Eddie, actor Eddie Albert.
Even ordinary people—black-tie and evening gown clad or not—received star treatment.
Irv Kupcinet was the Bill Zwecker of his day and at the same paper, the Chicago Sun-Times. Kup dominated The Pump Room’s Booth One, as orchestra leader Stanley Paul did the whole of the restaurant. Below, Kup is lunching with actress Jane Wyman in Booth One. She may have been a Hollywood superstar; however, Jane lost her opportunity to be America’s First Lady with a divorce from Ronald Reagan.
Kup with Jane Wyman.
Here, Kup, center, is squeezed in between Janis Paige and the ultra-glamorous Jane Russell; the man on the left is the biggest star of them all, Frank Sinatra, known for—among many other things—the all-night parties he hosted on the Super Chief. At the other end of the booth are Peter Lawford and Kup’s wife, Essie.
The mystique of Booth One began with the great stage actress Gertrude Lawrence, who was starring in Susan and God at the Harris Theater when The Pump Room opened in 1938. Fascinated by the opulent room, she dined there–in the first booth to the right of the entrance–every night for the one and a half month run of the play. With that, a tradition was established.
The force behind The Pump Room was Ernest Byfield, right, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The Bogarts were regulars of the Ambassador and Booth One, even honeymooning in an upstairs suite.
Joan Crawford lunching in Booth One with Bill Zwecker’s mother, Peg Zwecker, another powerful Chicago columnist.
One didn’t expect to see children in Booth One; however, Judy Garland’s offspring, Liza Minnelli and Joey and Lorna Luft, were exceptions.
Carol Channing, center, with husband and wife stage actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
New York columnist and television star Ed Sullivan dined alone, but was surrounded by Pump Room pomp.
The great star of the final portion of the Booth One era Pump Room was orchestra leader and valued Classic Chicago contributor Stanley Paul.
Stanley Paul escorting Zsa Zsa Gabor to Booth One.
Stanley Paul as he is today, appearing in a fashion show with fellow biker Mamie Walton in a picture from the August 20, 2017 issue of Classic Chicago.
Editors’ Note: Stanley Paul’s popular Classic Chicago series That Toddlin’ Town will wind up next week with The 1960’s and 70’s, the period during which Stanley Paul the musician emerged as a major star of the vivid Chicago nightlife about which Stanley Paul the columnist has been writing for this publication over the past several months. For those who have missed earlier decades in the series, the complete That Toddlin’ Town will remain in Classic Chicago archives indefinitely. In addition, the Stanley Paul column THIS AND THAT will pick up again and continue to appear on these pages after the first of the year.
Robert F. Carl