When Ernie Byfield opened The Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel on October 1, 1938, he undoubtedly had little idea that he was beginning an enterprise that would still be thriving to this day.
- Today, The Pump Room remains a highly acclaimed restaurant and Chicago landmark.
- Located in Chicago’s Gold Coast inside the Ambassador East Hotel, the Pump Room’s traditional elegance has made it the place to celebrate special occasions in the city. A gallery of celebrity photographs, many taken at the famous Booth One and others were taken at the more intimate Green Booth, line the walls of the stairwell leading to the famed Pump Room Restaurant.
In 1938, Mr. Byfield was inspired by a place called the Pump Room that dominated the scene in 18th century England.
- Located in the resort city of Bath, The Pump Room was a place where Queen Anne and other stylish Londoners converged to revel in the social life at night after a long day.
- The Pump Room was named after the hot water drinks “pumped” into its patrons’ cocktails.
Byfield’s Pump Room was a success from the day it opened.
- Chicago’s socialites perched themselves along the large room’s western wall to observe the celebrities who made their appearances along the East side of the room.
- Those guests seated in Booth One, perhaps the more renowned table in the country, attracted the most attention.
- The Pump Room was a stopover for lunch between trains – the 20th Century Limited, Broadway Limited, and the Super Chief, Chief or City of Los Angeles – from New York to Los Angeles or vice versa. Celebrities would take rooms at the Ambassador East to enjoy a bath and freshen up.
- Famed actress Gertrude Lawrence, who was starring in a play in Chicago at the same time as The Pump Room’s debut, established its reputation. Miss Lawrence staged a nightly gathering in Booth One during the play’s entire 90-day run. From that moment on, The Pump Room became the place to see and be seen.
John Barrymore roared for champagne; Bette Davis could be found curled up on the piano bench; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall celebrated their wedding in Booth One, as did Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. Liza Minnelli grew up in Booth One and has fond memories of dining there with her mother, Judy Garland. Ms. Garland immortalized the restaurant in the lyrics to “Chicago”, with the words “we’ll eat at The Pump Room/Ambassador East, to say the least”. And of course, Frank Sinatra held court in Booth One countless times.
After Byfield’s death in 1950, The Pump Room held on to its allure as a place for stargazing. A new generation of luminaries took up residence in Booth One. Mel Brooks personally greeted each guest; Paul Newman and Robert Redford lunched on ham sandwiches and pilsners every day during the shooting of “The Sting”. Michael J. Fox, Eddie Murphy, and Jim Belushi have all continued the tables’ famous tradition.
Opera star Beverly Sills has added some high notes to the room, while a few rock and roll legends like David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Olivia Newton-John and Mick Jagger, have added some of their own. A little known drummer was refused entry when he failed to pass the dress code and titled his solo album, “No Jacket Required” after the incident. His name Phil Collins. (He was sent a new jacket by way of apology.)
- One of the few restaurants in the country to be immortalized in a Sinatra song, the Pump Room in Chicago is now a hot spot once again.
- The Pump Room was one of the first quality restaurants to open in Chicago after the end of Prohibition and soon became a Windy City icon.
- In addition to Sinatra (who sang the praises of the place in the classic song Chicago), the place was a favorite hangout of a lot of famous people including Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Bette Davis and numerous others.
- The Pump Room, named after a spa in Bath, England, remained open long after the giants that once graced its premises had left.
- Unfortunately, time took its toll on the legendary establishment, and its culinary fare was soon surpassed by the fine dining scene exploding in Chicago and characterized by uber-chef Charlie Trotter.
Lucius Beebe (the society columnist who coined “cafe society”) featured The Pump Room in his New York column along with magazine stories. Stars, celebrities, etc. lunched regularly at The Pump Room for the short layover en-route by train between New York and Hollywood or San Francisco. They would overnight on the 20th Century Limited or The Broadway Limited from New York to Chicago – then dine at The Pump Room – and continue West on the Super Chief, The Chief, the Golden State, Cities of Los Angeles, or San Francisco, and the California Zephyr.
The Pump Room experienced a revitalization in the late 1990s when it was purchased by a large restaurant management group. They spent a lot of money to renovate the facility, overhaul the menu, and hire a top-flight staff. While the Pump Room’s golden era trademark flaming food served on a sword was a tragedy of city fire codes, the menu is now on par with any in the city serving a sophisticated interpretation of classic American cuisine. In addition to the revamped cuisine, the Pump Room upgraded its wine offering and expanded the bar area.
In April 2010, the Ambassador East Hotel was sold to Ian Schrager Co. It closed in 2011 and was completely remodeled as the Public Chicago Hotel. The Pump Room reopened in Fall 2011, with food concepts by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The hotel as well as The Pump Room is located on the Northeast corner of State Parkway and Goethe St in Chicago’s Gold Coast.