The Pump Room when I first began presenting “tearoom” fashion shows there.
In my Monday Profile on Terri D’Ancona, she was extremely kind in her reminiscences about the shows we did at The Pump Room at the old Ambassador East Hotel (now the Public) and I wanted to expand on those thoughts with more details on those shows.
I was asked to do a weekly show in the 1960’s (they continued through the early 1990’s). The Pump Room was THE place to see and be seen. Chicago, being the Railroad Capital of the World, was where every celebrity stopped over between trains coming or going from California to New York and Booth One at The Pump Room was the table everyone coveted. It was a success from the day it opened in 1938. Restaurant shows were all the rage. The models would walk through the tables showing the newest trends of the season. Since we had so many “house” models (they were on weekly store payroll and I didn’t have to pay them extra) I would use them and supplement with freelance models, usually the same ones each week, four in total. Our sales were always excellent. We always had live music and a young man from New York arrived in Chicago for an engagement and stayed based in Chicago until today…that person and his orchestra was Stanley Paul! Part of that engagement included doing our shows. Not only did Stanley play for our shows but he also performed nightly with his orchestra, you see the room became a nightclub where one could, and did, go dancing…why do even the good things go away, I do love to go dancing. I just have to content myself with watching Dancing With The Stars! I would order lunch for all us (yes, models do eat!!!) call Stanley in his room (he lived at the Hotel at that time), wake him up and get him down to work the show. Since The Pump Room was a celebrity hangout, Stanley often hung out with them, after his gigs were over which could be quite late. We all had a blast and Stanley and I have stayed friends to this day. We often talk about the “good old Pump Room days”. As Terri mentioned, Stanley, for the fashion shows and for all the events he played, would personalize a song to whoever was walking into the room or onto the dance floor. The song was (is) often only known to Stanley and the person(s) involved, but its great fun. I am fortunate to have several CD’s of Stanley playing, I could and do listen to him all day, no one does standards like Stanley Paul, no one!!!
Photo courtesy of Stanley Paul, in my scrapbook.
Nena introducing and/or commentating a show in the center of The Pump Room. An area we also used to do celebrity interviews. I’m wearing one of my first Adolfo suits which is now in the Fashion Studies Collection at Columbia College Chicago.
Years later, Stanley and Nena at a pre-party for an event I was chairing and Stanley and his Orchestra were playing (not at the Pump Room.)
At some point in time The Pump Room was sold to Rich Melman of Lettuce Entertain You and he asked me to continue doing the shows, which we did and they became extremely successful for the restaurant and for the store so much so Rich asked me to do two shows a week, suggesting Fridays and I said you don’t need to fill the room on Fridays it is already filled, let’s do Tuesdays, and two shows we did, each Tuesday and Thursday. After several years, Stanley decided not to do the shows any more and another pianist took over, Jackie O’Shea. The shows continued for many, many years and we did other shows in the room to benefit charities, entertain convention groups, men’s shows for the Holidays and on and on….
Karen Ryan, for many years one of my regular models, in a show (not a Pump Room show but you get the idea).
At the beginning of the shows I worked very closely with one of the most important public relations women in the City, Lucia Perrigo. What a character and whirlwind she was and she knew absolutely everyone. When she was doing her travelogues out of town with her husband, Howdie Meyer, (they themed dressed in costumes of the country they were discussing, quite amusing and great fun!) I would do the interviews, which I loved (and I still enjoy doing one on one interviews…do I see a podcast in my future, I think I might). We would sit with our guests, who might be appearing in a play, doing a movie or just passing through Chicago, have lunch then do the interview in the middle of the room, these interviews were then followed by the fashion show. In retrospect, not having any form of technology I can’t imagine how I got any other work done.
Nena and Lucia waiting for our guest. Could my hair be any closer to my head… seriously!!!!
One of my favorite events we did was working with the original costumes from the 1967 movie Camelot, (we also did one with the costumes by Donald Brooks for the movie Star, based on the life of Gertrude Lawrence, the clothes were glorious!) The Camelot costumes were all in earth tones and extremely well constructed and in some cases very heavy. I suggest you watch both of these films you will enjoy them.
Poster from the film.
Lucia decided that she wanted me to wear the garment Guinevere, Vanessa Redgrave, wears upon her arrival to Camelot it weighed a ton…unbeknownst to Lucia I had cut all my hair off, she was horrified, “What happened to my Guinevere?” I thought she would burst into tears, after putting on several falls (remember those!) I was more in character. I walked the entire room with my “Knights of the Round Table” and then stood and commentated the show with script prepared by the film company and Lucia. I don’t love reading script, I am much better, if I may say so, impromptu. The professional models wore the costumes from the film and members of the charity wore contemporary garments that I tied in with the feeling and color of the costumes. A huge success. The only problem, readers, is that I can’t find the photos of me in the costume, when I do, I will re-post, sorry!
Wasn’t Vanessa Redgrave lovely. The coat was extraordinary and great fun to pretend I was in a film. Photo credit unknown.
The garment without me in it!!! Photo credit unknown.
Well that is just a very brief overview of my years working with The Pump Room. I am so glad they didn’t rename the restaurant, it is, of course, totally different in feeling, very contemporary, very now…just like the original version in its day!!!
Pump Room today. Photo credit unknown.
CLUB 21 CHICKEN HASH
(ALSO SERVED AT CRICKET’S IN CHICAGO AND A SIMILAR RECIPE AT THE PUMP ROOM)
- 3⁄4 cup white wine
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 3 whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, separated into 6 halves, and well trimmed
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1⁄4 cup dry sherry
- 2 egg yolks
- 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
- 3⁄4 cup parmigiano, grated (Reggiano or Grana Padano)
- In a large saucepan, bring the wine and chicken broth to a boil.
- Rub the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add to the liquid.
- Add the bay leaf.
- Lower the heat to a simmer and poach the chicken at just below a simmer for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts.
- Remove the breasts to a plate and allow to cool, reserving the liquid.
- In a saucepan, melt butter.
- Add flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Return the wine and broth mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour it into the roux in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Place the pot over medium-high heat and, while whisking, return the sauce to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and allow the sauce to cook an additional 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the sherry and remove the sauce from the heat. Cool at room temperature for 3 minutes.
- Whisk the egg yolks into the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Mix one half of the whipped cream into the sauce to lighten it. Fold in remaining cream gently but thoroughly.
- Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the sauce. Mix well gently.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Transfer the hash to a large, ovenproof casserole dish or 4 individual casseroles, sprinkling Parmigiano cheese over the top and bake, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes.
- Place the casserole under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to brown the top.
- Garnish as desired and serve.
All photos unless otherwise noted from the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago http://www.colum.edu
Lovely piece on the Pump Room. I remember your shows with fondness and have many pleasant memories of interviews in Booth one, especially with ZsaZsa Gabor. Barbara Varro
Thank you so much Barbara. You were a huge part of my shows by covering them with insightful extremely well written reviews as Fashion Editor of the Sun Times. Great times!!’
Smashing write up!! Sooo right on! Great memories. Fantastic article Nena. Really enjoyed reading it.
Shelley a million thanks for your comments. Yes, really great memories.
Elegant era for fashion and dining! Fun to reminisce.
Thanks so much Dianne. Wish we could really revisit not just write about it!!!
Just loved your article on the Pump Room. Wish I had been around for all those wonderful shows you did. Sounded wonderful. You and Stanley must have been quite the dynamic duo. Stanley played the piano for my mother at her 100 th birthday I had for her back in 2013! She adored him.
Actually, I am so sorry to see all the changes at the Pump Room. I did love having lunch there when we first moved back to Chicago.
Thanks Marcia. They were great fun times but then nostalgia always is!!! The new Pump Room is what it is. I might not have kept its name but then no one asked me!!!! I’m all for change and modernization but would like to see some things survive…everything is driven by bottom line….pity!!!!
What a great post, Nena! I loved the old Pump Room and Stanley Paul. And thanks for posting that almost 40-year-old photo of me!
You haven’t changed!!!! Glad you liked the post. Can’t edit to do yours.
I so enjoy reading your blog, but this one was super special because of Karen Reedy Ryan’s pic – my dear friend who keeps looking better and better with age. Thank you Nena!
Thank you so much. Karen hasn’t changed at all over the years. I’d put her on the runway tomorrow!!!! Can’t wait to do her profile!!!