Historic Pump Room gets makeover

October 12, 2011 4:54:53 AM PDT
Three years ago Chicago's famous Pump Room closed. At least that's what everyone thought. Now here it is again open to a thirsty public. It might not be as glitzy as it once was but it's still that same old historic watering hole.

The old Ambassador East Hotel is now called simply Public Chicago. Its official opening Tuesday called for a five-scissor ribbon cutting.

The man behind the $25 million makeover is New Yorker Ian Schrager.

"Anytime you take over an icon it's very treacherous. You know, it's a balancing act between holding on to the heritage and the tradition of the room but also looking forward and paying honor to the next generation," said Schrager.

It's still elegant but a lot of the stuffiness is gone and so are the old prices. They plan on making money by filling every table and every room.

"The best part of all is that we have reasonable prices," said Schrager. "Rooms for $135."

And what about the new Pump Room? It's much more streamlined and modern. No white table cloths like the Pump Room had just before it closed. Maybe it was just too high falluting to succeed in these casual days. Orchestra leader Stanley Paul, who was seated in booth one next to Kup's famous telephone Tuesday, thinks Schrager has the right idea.

"This place was built 75 years ago. He realizes you can't go back the way things used to be. You don't wear ties or black ties anymore in places like this," said Paul.

Yes, all those old celebrity photos are still there and on display. It's a time capsule trip to a more glamorous time. And you have to wonder, will these shots mean anything at all to the young people the new pump room is trying to attract?

"They might not know all of them but they still have some magic. They know some of them," said Schrager.

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