So, now we have it: The Pump Room will be called…the Pump Room.
How prosaic. How uninspired. How positively awful.
That is the result of a two-week long contest conducted by hotelier Ian Schrager, who bought the Ambassador East hotel and its famous restaurant in April 2010. The contest was announced in newspaper ads and via Facebook and Twitter, and people could vote by phone, text or on iPads. Voters had two choices: The Pump Room or Gold Coast Kitchen. The winning name was announced Wednesday.
The name of the hotel, scheduled to open in October, has already been changed, without the benefit of polls and to little fanfare (or outrage). It is Public Chicago, the first in what Schrager plans as a chain of Public hotel properties.
There are many people paying close attention to the contest, among them Max Weismann, who frequented the Pump Room at least three nights a week for nearly 50 years.
"I have mixed emotions about keeping the name, based on what I've heard about what might be its new persona," Weisman says. "The Pump Room was arguably the most famous bar and restaurant in this country for seven decades. Sadly again, from what I've read about not only of The Pump Room, but the hotel itself — stripped clean of its historical heritage — there is something odious about The Pump Room in the Public."
Change comes hard in some quarters, to some people. You must recall the hue and cry, picketing and boycott-threats that shadowed Macy's 2005 purchase of Marshall Field & Company. That confounded me. It wasn't as if the company's flagship State Street building was being razed. It wasn't as if that site and the other stores were being converted into discount centers. (There remain those, see fieldsfanschicago.org, still railing about the change).
I had a certain historical stake in this matter. My father, Herman Kogan, and Lloyd Wendt wrote the definitive history of the company in their 1952, "Give the Lady What She Wants," and so I was from my earliest years imbued with the store's history and the meaning of it all.
But change happens. A city is an organic thing. But there seem to be always be more people concerned with the name change of a tower (Sears to Willis) than willing to fight against the desecration of Maxwell Street or to lift a finger to help brighten such neighborhoods as Englewood, Lawndale orRoseland.
I say this having a stake in The Pump Room, too. I wrote a 1983 history of it and the Ambassador East titled "Sabers & Suites," and I know and appreciate all the players in the storied history.
Principal among those is Ernest Byfield, one of the city's great characters, a hotel man with a showman's spirit. He owned the Ambassador East and West hotels, the latter now a condo building, and it was he who decided, without benefit of public voting, what to call his hotel's new restaurant.
"We are going to call it the Pump Room," Byfield told the hotel's general manager, Jimmy Hart. His inspiration came from Booth Tarkington's novel "Monsieur Beaucaire," which was set in Bath, the 18th century British watering place and gambling spa. The focal point of Bath was the Pump Room, where people could take advantage of the supposed health-giving effects of the area's waters and which was the first fashionable spot where the aristocracy and actors socialized together.
"The Pump Room? We already have a pump room," Hart said. "It's in the basement."
The Pump Room opened on Oct. 1, 1938, and for years was the celebrity hangout and among the city's most popular restaurants. The last couple of decades, not so much, though it was still a lovely room, its walls lined with photos of its celebrated patrons and its history heavy in the air.
Byfield died in 1950. So highly was he then regarded, that his death was noted on the front pages of the city's papers, no more loudly than in the Herald American, with a bold red headline. Bogie and Bacall attended his funeral.
But as happens, his name and fame quickly faded. It resurfaced for a bit when Richard Melman, of Lettuce Entertain You renown, and who ran the Pump Room for 20 years starting in 1976, created a small nightclub across the hotel's lobby. It was open for a few years in the 1980s and was called Byfield's.
The new restaurant in the Ambassador East … pardon me, the Public Chicago, will be run by New York chef/restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten and it will have a new look and a new menu and a new "persona" and it will still be called The Pump Room.
I would have called it Byfield's, but nobody bothered to ask.
Listen to "The Sunday Papers With Rick Kogan," 6:30-9 a.m. Sunday on WGN-AM 720.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun