Rush Street Chicago: Yesterday and today

My aunt always told me that my grandmother Amelia owned part of Rush Street in the early 1900’s. She said it was located near the Rush street bridge. Though I had heard this story as a child, wasn’t sure what to ask and my Aunt died in the late 1990’s. Other family members have never confirmed the reality. That was the first time I heard about Rush Street.

It wasn’t until the 70’s and early 1980’s that I heard about Rush with an invitation to go party and drink. This was the Las Vegas of Chicago even more popular in the early years before I was able to drink.  The most popular places I visited was Faces but I probably spent more time on Division Street at the Original Mothers and Butch McGuires, the latter that opened in 1961.

The following describes some of the popular places on Rush; yesterday and today:

Whiskey Go Go is still a nightclub in California and has opened the doors for many including the Doors, Van Halen and Steppenwolf. The first opened in 1958 at the corner of Rush and Chestnut in Chicago.

The Backroom a great jazz and blues venue and probably one of the oldest jazz club that began in the 1960’s. It continued on into the 70’s and 1980’s. Musicians specializing mostly in jazz but also touching on soul, funk, R&B and blues, play on an elevated stage on the east side of the room and under a most impressive sculpture created from brass horns, to match the column-like structure that looks like a coatrack made of horns near the southeast corner of the room.

The Happy Medium  was built in 1960, located at Rush and Delaware, which was a combination theater and disco. Helen Reddy actually stared at the club. The owners, George and Oscar Marienthal, also owned Mister Kellys, also on Rush and the London House. The London house opened downtown Chicago in 1946 and created the popularity of jazz musicians including Ramsey Lewis.

Punchinellos was a theatre bar and again celebrities such as Barry Manilow and Della Reese would frequent the bar.

Mister Kellys was launched in 1956 and was truly the leading example of night club celebrity elegance, combining music with comedy, which included the beginnings of Bill Cosby, Bette Midler, Woody Allen and Barbra Steisand. Mr. Kellys was restaurant that also featured the best steak and their famous green goddess salad.

Rush up another bar where many talk of meeting Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa.

Faces opened in the early 1970’s and you could become a member of the club for 50 dollars. I went to Faces a couple of times in the lates 70’s and not sure how I got in, but it was loud though fun for dancing compared to many clubs in Chicago. This was supposedly the best place to meet and greet.

Today,  some of the best bars and restaurants include the following:

Pippins: A great Irish pub with an excellent hotdog, serving from the Downtown Dogs next door, and an extensive beer selection. Pippins has been a part of the Rush Street scene for over 45 years and offers a very authentic Irish experience.

Hugos Frog Bar: Also located in Naperville, Hugos offers excellent mussels and oysters on the half shell including an expansive wine list sharing with the iconic Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse. Gibsons is the first restaurant group to be awarded its own USDA Prime Certification

Tavern on Rush: A great bar and restaurant with a DJ located in the heart of Rush street. They are known for the best calamari and excellent horseshoe bar along with split level seating.

Jellyfish:  Located on the second floor across the street from Hugos and Gibsons, this is a great place for enjoying the cuisines of several countries that include Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. From 3-6pm, you can experience signature cocktails during happy hours.

Chicago’s Gold Coast

My early gold coast trips included the Old Water Tower built in 1869 finally transcending across the street to the new Water Tower Place built in 1975. Also, for me, days of dining took place in an elegant room for Sunday brunch and dinner at Kontiki Ports restaurant, provided by the Continental Hotel now Intercontinental.

But the Gold Coast is truly known for prominent luxury that began on the near north side of Chicago. Millionaire Potter Palmer built his mansion in 1882 while other wealthy residents followed to the Gold coast of Chicago situated along the shores of Lake Michigan.

The Gold Coast still offers an affluent haven for rare designer stores on the Magnificent Mile and the most popular restaurants in the country located on historic Rush street.  After shopping and eating,  the district highlights some of the most prestigious hotels that include the legendary Drake .

Old Water Tower

Located in the heart of the Gold Coast along the Magnificent Mile known for its shopping, the Chicago Water Tower is the second oldest in the United States built in 1869 and is worth a visit.  Skyscrapers,  such as the Hancock Building, dwarf the building that is just little over 150 Feet. It now holds a city gallery that present the resplendent work of artists and local photographers. An ensemble based theatre in Chicago that has won 42 Joseph Jefferson  is LookingGlass theatre whose home is this historic water pumping station  and offers internships to graduated college students in professional theatre.

Water Tower Place

Across the street from the Chicago Water Tower, is 758,000 square feet of shopping with 74 floors  at Water Tower Place, one of Chicago’s largest shopping malls with over 100 stores. All business are indoors at 825 North Michigan Avenue.  Water Tower features stores such as America Girl Place where you can shop for your favorite doll and treat you and your children to a special dining experience.  Other stores include Macy’s, Abercrombie and Fitch and full service restaurants like Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch; a great sports bar on the top floor of the plaza.

Broadway Play House

After spending a day of shopping and dining, on the North side of Water Tower Place is the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower, originally a Drury Lane Theater in the 1970’s. After a makeover in 2010, Broadway has hosted Love, Loss and What I wore as well as highly acclaimed Broadway hit Colin Quinn: Long Story Shorty.

Newberry Library

Situated in the vibrant Gold Coast neighborhood but off the beaten path of Michigan Ave and its restaurants and shops, Newberry library is free and open to the public. Researchers and scholars all over the world have visited the collections that include the brilliance of literature , rare books, maps, music and manuscripts that will detail six centuries of material. The Newberry was established in 1887 and also provides programs for teachers, adult education seminars and a variety of events on  the humanities.

Washington Square Park

Across the street from the Newberry, is the serenity of  Washington Square Park  founded in 1842. During the summer months the park is celebrated with a combination of trees, picket fencing, a Victorian fountain that was added in the 1890’s and a beautiful array of floral design; a great place to take a breath and relax during your busy trip to Gold Coast.  The park is heralded as an historic district in Chicago.

900 North Michigan Shops

For high end, luxury shopping featuring Gucci, Max Mara, J.Crew and a host of others, visit the 8th tallest skyscraper in the city on Gold Coast’s Magnificent Mile.  Exquisite boutiques include designers such as Kate Spade and Karen Millen. Celebrate happy hour at Frankie’s pizza.

Rush Street

Just a one way street traveling North, Rush is acclaimed for its wealth, nightlife, five star hotels and elite restaurants that include Tavern on Rush,  Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House, and Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse where you will find autographed photographs  of the rich and famous. If in the mood for Asian, Jellyfish restaurant has been voted as one of the 17 hottest Sushi Restaurants in the United States.  There is no telling what to expect on Rush street.

Driehaus Museum

Known as the Gilded Age, Driehaus offers collections of awe inspiring examples of furnishing and interiors the wealthy in America crafted during that era. Beautifully preserved architecture and design grace the museum from such acclaimed designers as Louis Comfort Tiffany.  You will be able to visit rooms in the Gallery that present the elegance of the front parlor, dining room and even the smoking room of the early 19th century.

Signature Lounge at the 96th and Signature Room at the 95th

Not only does the 96th floor of the John Hancock offer wonderful views of the city, but the  Signature Lounge offers a choice of over 700 wines and specialty cocktails along with appetizers that include caprese bruschetta and great chicken wings.  If in the mood for dinner, The Signature Room at the 95th floor has been named the most romantic and has been voted one of America’s Top Table by Gourmet Magazine. Fresh entrees include Australian rack of lamb and vegetable lasagna.

The Drake  Hotel

One of more than 250 hotels in America, the Drake Hotel is recognized by Historic Hotels of America. The Hotel opened on New Year’s Eve with a massive gala of over 2,000 Chicago Citizens in 1919.  The Drake provides the grandeur of the early 19th century  with over 500 luxury guest rooms and 74 magnificent suites . Enjoy afternoon tea in the elaborate Palm Court and choose from 17 different tea suggestions.