We spent our first evening in Chicago drinking an aperitif at the Drake Hotel. This is one of my first memories in the States, the first experience in Chicago… and, for this reason, one of the most beautiful one.
The experience at the Drake filled us with excitement and prepared ourselves to explore the Windy City the day after.
What is special about the Drake Hotel? First of all, the thing that, I must say, attracted me here was that it was the location of several movies like Risky business, My best friend’s wedding and Flags of our fathers, just to name a few. But more than anything else was the story of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio that interested me: the classic, romantic and tormented love story between celebrities.
Joe DiMaggio saw for the first time Marilyn Monroe on a picture of two friends of his, two football players, and he did anything he could to meet her. She was reluctant to meet him but in the end Joe managed to get a date and after a little while they got married.
They came to eat at the Drake during their honeymoon and Joe carved their initials (JD and MM) right on the counter of the Cape Cod, the hotel’s first restaurant (that closed in 2017, unfortunately). Just before leaving, Marilyn wrote a love message for Joe and leave it in a bottle, entrusted it to the barman, promising they would return to get it back.
But they never returned. Their marriage ended nine months later, due to the differences between them and Joe’s jealousy.
The original bottle was stolen from the hotel, but today leaving a message in a bottle at the Drake is a tradition: there is also an entire wall dedicated to this!
Still today the Drake Hotel and its restaurants are one of the favourites of actors and others celebrities, thanks to the intimate atmosphere of the place that always give a bit of – deserved – privacy.
The history of the Drake Hotel
Designed by the architect Benjamin Howard Marshall and financed by John B. Drake and Tracy Corey Drake, the Drake Hotel was inaugurated on 1920’s New Year’s Eve, with a big ceremony in the presence of more than two thousands among the most distinguished citizens of the city.
The hotel immediately became the first choice of the high society and today it still is the favourite place of the local élite during tea time, a tradition inherited by the Palm Court, so it wasn’t affected by the Great Depression. On the contrary, between years 20’s and 30’s, personalities like Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, George Gershwin and Charles Lindbergh were regulars visitors of the Gold Coast Room counter, the ballroom that host the hotel’s major events.
In 1932 the Cape Cod Restaurant became the first themed restaurant of the Unites States (it was inspired by New England aesthetic) and the most famous fish restaurant in Chicago (this is the reason why Joe and Marilyn went to eat here). The Drake Hotel survived also the Prohibition Era and from 1940 to 1970 it was turned, renewed and enlarged several times, until it was bought from Hilton, that restored it without undermined its original form, giving it the appereance we can see today.
From december 30th, 2014, the hotel is part of the Historical Hotels of America program, and it is acknowledged as National Historic Landmark and registered in the National Register of Historic Places.
The restaurants of the Drake Hotel
The Coq d’Or: this café&lounge is one of the most important and famous in Chicago, a café of historical importance just like the hotel that hosts it. It was the second café in the State to obtain a license to sell spirits – and the first one that went on sale was a 40 cent per glass whiskey – after the end of prohibition was declared. Today it presents a long list of more or less expensive Whiskeys and cocktails that can satisfy every taste. You can also register, free of charge, at the Coq D’or Whiskey Club, to have discounts and be informed about the special events of the club. The environment is elegant and refined as expected, it is open from lunchtime and on the weekends there is always a live accompaniment. It reminded me a lot of the classic American clubs from the 30s seen in the movies… so exciting!
I will tell you about the Cape Cod because we ate there and it was the historic restaurant of the Drake, but today the restaurant is closed and was replaced by the ‘Cafè on Oak’. We hope to go back to the Drake one day, to try the new restaurant and – nothing wrong with dreaming – stay at the hotel.
The Cape Cod: This was the hotel’s flagship, a New England-style restaurant open since 1933 and among the most famous in Chicago, especially for fish. You could choose whether to have dinner at the table or an aperitif or a simple glass at the wood bar counter, the same since 1933. Also for the aperitif you can choose from the restaurant menu and, of course, all based on fish: from oysters to lobster, from shrimp to the famous crab cake, all finely prepared by the French chef. Not to mention the desserts, which won me over at the first bite! It may be that the pastry chef is Italian-Brazilian, but the touch of our Bel Paese was felt… here, a nice glass of sparkling wine with a small dessert for me would be the perfect aperitif to do and redo!
The bad news, discovered only a few days ago, is that from 1 January 2017 the restaurant will close forever. I feel really lucky to have been here.
Don’t miss the opportunity to stay there and book a room!