Saturday, January 09, 2010

Pump Room Alternative Scouting Report - Part 1

Lonnie Walker's Underground Wonder Bar is great spot!

Bar Bernard in the Elsian Hotel is opulent.

I have a bad feeling that Ian Schrager's plans* for the venerable Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel include peeling off the Walnut and other warm woods and replace the atmosphere with glass and stainless steel. The guy who developed Studio 54 is going to maintain the grace dignity of the Pump Room? Please.

Warmth and Welcome is what it is all about.

On the Northside, Warmth and Welcome have always gone together. The master bar owner Nick Novich has made a legendary career of welcome stamped by his trademark Pineapple logo.

Bernard Callaghan's South Side fireplace woody warmth and Irish Pub coziness makes Keegan's Pub in my Morgan Park neighborhood a home base for hilarious and Bowie-knife wit from the wage-maker wags and public service professionals who wet down the week with Guinness and Smithwick's Ale.

However for the last two and half years, I have enjoyed the traditional grace and elegance of the Pump Room. No visit to that stately and lively gin-mill can be experienced without my morphing from a rumpled chino and crew-neck sweater English teacher into a worsted wool suited and starched white shirt and snappy cravat accessorised swell who knows how to mind his Pees and Cues.

From the doormen who recognize each and every regular, to the lovely, gracious and attentive greeters at the top of the Stairway to Heaven and right on up to the welocoming brass rail of the horseshoe bar where Angel, James and Tony practice the alchemy of liquid refreshments, the Pump Room is a Night Spa of a Vacation. Ian Schrager looms.

In the event that my worst fears will be realised, my beautiful and elegant best friend and I have begun a scouting report for the concerned Pump Room regulars - Max, Jesse, Beth, Maynard, Charlie, Steve, Diane, Carol, Yancy, Bob, Clay, Bozo, Joe, and so many more great folks. Cabaret Singer Nan Mason and her great band have been given notice. Nan follows in the wake of the loss of the Brilliant Andrew Distel in brake-job on the Pump Room.

Last night, my Angelic Beauty and I stopped by for Lime Rickies and witty patter with the Pump Room crew and then walked off in search of a venue that might absorb some of the shock of the Pump Room's fade into history.

Our first stop was Bernard's on the 2nd floor of the Elysian Hotel where the very attentive Food and Beverage Manager Brian O'Connor pointed out the beauty and overwhelming sights of the Bernard Bar.

Overwhelming is the word. This place and the people in there are beautiful. A mutt like me sticks out like spats on pig in the well-lighted majesty of the Elysian Hotel. My exquisite Lady Love - a diminutive Dresden Doll who bears no small resemblance to screen Goddess Jennifer Jones - decided that the opulence and upscale nature of the Elysian might overwhelm more than welcome and we headed to the elevators.

Right across the street was a saloon gem that I had not visited for almost twenty years.

Lonnie Walker's Underground Wonder Bar! Begging like a St. Cajetan second grader at the sight of Fat Tommy's Hot Dogs in Kennedy Park during baseball season, I convinced my smartly turned out arm-candy that a trip underground was essential - Baby it's cold outside.

The last time I enjoyed the Wonder Bar was in the company of my late wife Mary ( that girl could work a beer glass!) and the three Mulligan Brothers in the late 1980's. It is as an Old School Saloon and as fun now, as it was then. The young bartender is singer Lonnie Walker's son and a percussionist. My Angelic Companion and this handsome dred-locked young gent talked jazz as the talented Heather Horton opened the music for the evening. Ms. Horton does covers of John Prine, Bonnie Raitt and other great artists, as well as her own compositions.

Guinness Stout, Bass Ale and 312 Pale Ale are the draft delights and the back bar was heavy with high end hooch - Maker's Mark, Grey Goose & etc. as well as a number of Single Malt Scotch and Irish Whiskies as well as a broad assortment of cognacs.

The atmosphere is inviting and the music eclectic. The only drawback to Wonder Bar is the tight and narrow space it affords. It might not accommodate the large number of Pump Room Refugees.

I gave the Underground a Half-Thumb Up as did my half-pint Angel. Tight quarters, folks. The place is great fun, but would not be sizeable enough for all of the Pump Room Refugees.

Side Note - I was ordered to keep her name out of such affectionate and Whipped Boy offerings by your humble servant. This Dude Abides.

The search will continue.

In the mean time whine, wheeled and cajole until your better half assents to a trip to Lonnie Walker's Underground Wonder Bar! click my post title for more.

Stay tuned, Boys and Girls. Next Stop - Coq d'Or in the Drake Hotel - It's Got Wood!

His keen instincts for the mood and feel of popular culture were honed during the 70’s and 80’s, when he and his late business partner, Steve Rubell, created Studio 54 and Palladium. Rubell and Schrager soon turned their attention to the hotel business opening Morgans Hotel in 1984, introducing the concept of the "boutique hotel" to the world.

Following this were the equally well received and highly successful Royalton Hotel and Paramount Hotel, in which Schrager again broke with industry convention by creating "lobby socializing", where the hotel lobby became a new kind of gathering place for guests and New York City residents alike, and "cheap chic", where affordable luxury was offered in a stylish and sophisticated environment. Schrager also received international recognition and acclaim for his one-of-a-kind "urban resorts"—the Delano Hotel in Miami and Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. This was followed by the Hudson Hotel in New York, where Schrager realized his "hotel as lifestyle", and continued to refine his concept of "cheap chic", as well as expanding to cities such as San Francisco with the Clift Hotel and London with St. Martins Lane Hotel and the Sanderson Hotel.

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