• C.M. Martello

Original picture of the Pump Room from Bath, England


Malachy quickened his pace as he went up the marble steps leading to the entrance of the Pump Room. He breezed by the Maitre’d with a “very late for a meeting with the Cardinal” and maintained his pace as he entered the elegant, dark wood-dominated room. He scanned the room and spotted the Cardinal with an associate in one of the large booths far from the entrance:the celebrity-famous Booth One.

“Hello, Augustine,” Malachy said to Cardinal O’Grady.

O’Grady looked up at Malachy without saying anything. Malachy looked back, letting the silence build uncomfortably while silently playing the ‘over/under’ on $1,000 for the finely tailored black suit that held in O’Grady’s ample girth. He kept the ‘over’ to himself and said,“Nice booth you have there. A good spot for a private talk.”

“Hello, Malachy. In fact that’s just what I’m engaged in at the moment—discussing some Archdiocesan business. So please excuse us.” O’Grady looked down at his plate and began to slowly to cut one of the lobster pieces covered in a thick white sauce.

“I understand,” Malachy said. “Lots of good news to discuss, I’m sure.”

The other cleric at the table, beefy with a red face and a definite ‘under’ in clerical suits, looked up at Malachy and said, “His Eminence and I would like to have some privacy. Thank you for understanding.”

“I do understand, and I won’t be long,” Malachy said, sitting down at the end of the booth. “That’s the great thing about this setup — plenty of room. And thanks for the warm welcome.”

“You were not invited to sit down,” the other cleric said. “Please do not force me to call security. Just leave quietly.”

“No,” Malachy said, looking at O’Grady.



Favorite eatery of governors and gangsters, the rich and famous, and even some members of the College of Cardinals, the Pump Room was established in 1938 by Ernie Byfield. Located in the heart of Chicago's 'Gold Coast', it was named after a spot popular with royalty and upper-crust Londoners in Bath, England, as English cachet was an important cultural influence at the time. It was an immediate, rousing success — one reason being the New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco train schedule. The "important people" and cafe-society types making the train trip west would overnight to Chicago, arrive in the morning, freshen up at the Ambassador East hotel, which housed the Pump Room, and then spend the remainder of the day at the Pump Room before leaving for the West Coast in late afternoon.

As its fame grew, the Pump Room became an obligatory Chicago stop for both established and aspiring celebrities. Frank Sinatra often held court in the renowned Booth One, as did Judy Garland and many other notables in the movies, theater, publishing, politics and sports arenas. The list of the famous who dined there was extensive and varied — in 1959, Queen Elizabeth and Marilyn Monroe both made an appearance. And Irv “Kup” Kupcinet, the well-known Chicago gossip columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, made sure the world knew who was in Chicago and why by incessant table-hopping in the Pump Room, inviting the grandees back to Booth One which he considered his proprietary perch.

As with most restaurants that cater to the rich and famous, the Pump Room went through many transitions in décor, cuisine, and service. During its opulent beginnings, many dishes were prepared table-side, including entrées on flaming swords and coffee served by men wearing plumed costumes that were supposedly Arabic in style. In the 1990s, under new ownership, the Room transitioned to a more subdued, exclusive private club ambiance.

In 2010 the Ambassador East Hotel was sold, and soon after the Pump Room closed for another renovation. It reopened in late 2011, now housed in the newly renovated Public Chicago Hotel, and once again became a destination venue — this time more for Chicago's younger “beautiful people.” As one commentator put it, on Saturday nights “the robust sexual energy of 1,000 bachelorette parties” permeated the Pump Room.

Today, the Pump Room gives a restrained nod to its storied past. As one reviewer in Chicago Magazine put it:

"Some of the clientele in the dining room and arched lounge seem oblivious to the space’s history; others are thrilled to find their former haunt vital again. You might catch older customers perusing the photos of yesterday’s stars in the entranceway for memories. To the rest, they’re just wallpaper."