Gaslight Club – Chicago: A Roaring 20s Memory Lives On
Not to be confused with Gaslight in Racine, the Gaslight Club located in the O’Hare Hilton is the last of the original 1920s speakeasies that inspired the old Playboy Clubs. The service staff consists of beautiful and charming can-can girls dressed in corsets, tassels and fishnet stockings. The Gaslight Club extends beyond even that, attracting a more transient business clientele with few regulars coming from the city or suburbs. Gaslight was open to key members until 2001 and is now available to anyone who wants a cocktail, steak or seafood dinner and live piano entertainment in a chic, retro setting.
The O’Hare Hilton is located across from Terminal Three, within the boundaries of O’Hare International Airport. Visitors arrive by plane, take the blue “L” line, or park in the short-term lot. The Gaslight Club is located at the northwest end of the lobby, to the right of the front desk. Serbian owner Ranko (Ray) Dabizljevic rents the space from the Hilton and advertises the dress code as “business attire,” a rarity these days.
To the left of the framed Gaslight sign promising “Fine Dining and Entertainment,” you’ll find the maitre d’s standing under a white statue of a woman who appears to be about to plunge into the water; maybe her wallet at her place… If she’s dining, the hostess will lead you to her table down a narrow hallway carpeted with Victorian wallpaper and lit by Tiffany lamps. A small room to the right of it features a handful of low tables for four, facing a series of tall, leather-upholstered wooden booths. Smaller tables for two are located under false shelving along the east wall.
Beyond the dining room is the heart and soul of the place, The Longhorn Room: a square, two-story space that’s big enough to accommodate the massive crystal chandelier brought from a castle in Europe. Several smallish, low wooden tables fill this space, punctuated by large, ornately framed Rubenesque nudes and a photo of Jimmy Durante grinning broadly and surrounded by the original Gaslight Club girls. Evening entertainment centers around the piano that sits in the middle of the western wall. Although Dixieland Jazz was once featured, you’ll find typical piano bar covers of songs rather than what you’d hear at Redhead Piano Bar, Zebra Lounge, or Davenport’s. Maybe it’s the giant chandelier upstairs, but the piano looks a bit small, especially with the stack of music books stacked on top of it. A portal below the large “Longhorn Room” sign hanging on the east wall leads to the kitchen, beyond which is a small server aisle that is flanked by two raised tables.
The bar is located at the north end of the room with an impressive wooden back bar framed by stately columns. The signature cocktail is the lemon drop. Instead of the shots you might have had at a place like the now-defunct Spike’s Rat Bar, this one comes in the form of a martini, made with Limoncello and a lemon wedge. A rather pedestrian beer list (no craft beers, thanks) is counterpointed by a fine dessert selection of ports, cognacs, single malts and a few other delicious spirits. Although they were previously served in ceramic cups, now all drinks are served in their usual glassware.
The menu is definitely geared towards those with an expense account. Signature steaks and chops are $34-49, the top end is the Gaslight Steak (prime bone-in rib chop), and Surf and Turf is $60 and up (filet mignon and lobster tail), all of which are They serve to the card (expect $6 for a baked potato). For those who want to lower the price, the Chicken Florentine and the Wienerschnitzel are recommended. For dessert, the lemon mousse hits the spot pretty well, although Eli’s chocolate mousse and cheesecake are probably more popular.
Of course, dinner and drinks are served by cute, slender, well-endowed, mostly Eastern European Gaslight Girls, who wear low-cut tops, ruffles that cover their buttocks, fishnet or nylon stockings, and high heels, similar to a Playboy bunny outfit, minus the tail (after all, it was this outfit that inspired the bunny outfit). Water and bread (served on a cutting board) are doled out by smartly dressed waiters.
The first Gaslight Club was opened on October 27, 1953, in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, by Burton Browne, a lookalike for Colonel Sanders who sincerely felt he was a cougar in a past life. The original Gaslight Club was in such demand that it had to move to a larger space at 13 E. Huron (now a high-rise) that also featured the infamous Everleigh Club’s bar. A second Chicago location was added at Palmer House (closed 1988).
In 1956, the New York Club opened in a lavish old mansion and featured Elizabeth Taylor as a Gaslight Girl, while she filmed scenes there for Butterfield 8, for which she won an Academy Award. The Washington DC club opened in 1959 and then Paris in 1961. Gaslight Club O’Hare opened in 1973. After Burton Browne passed away, board member Robert Fredricks ran the clubs until 1984 when Jim Roberts, Jr, a member of the Gaslight Club Longtime, Took the Reigns At its height, the Gaslight Club numbered over 26,000 members, each with a gold-plated key. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, interest in members-only clubs declined significantly, and both the Gaslight and Playboy Club were closed more frequently. Until a new Playboy Club recently opened in Las Vegas, Gaslight Club O’Hare was the only one of its kind to survive.
Today the Gaslight Club is considered a rarity, prized by the few who know and enjoy it on the scales. While the location and/or cost of tickets scare off most Chicagoans and suburbanites, the Gaslight Club is a one-of-a-kind original and definitely worth a visit. Just get to O’Hare an hour early, resist the urge to squeeze into the nondescript little bar near his door, and grab a drink at the Gaslight Club bar. Just make sure you don’t let the Gaslight Girls make you miss your flight… For more information, visit the Gaslight Club website. Capital!