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Gaslight Club – Chicago: A Throwback From the Roaring 20s Lives On
Not to be confused with Gaslight on Racine, the Gaslight Club located at the O’Hare Hilton is the last of the original 20’s era speakeasies that inspired the old Playboy Clubs. The waitstaff consists of beautiful and charming can-can girls wearing corsets, tassels and fishnet stockings. The Gaslight Club’s extends beyond that, attracting more of a transient business clientele with a few regulars coming from the city or suburbs. Gaslight was open to key-holding members until 2001 and is now available to anyone who wants a cocktail, steak or seafood dinner, and live piano entertainment in an elegant throwback setting.
The O’Hare Hilton is located across from Terminal Three, within the confines of O’Hare International Airport. Visitors either fly in, take the Blue Line “L” or park in the lot for a short time. The Gaslight Club is located at the northwest end of the lobby, to the right of the front desk. Serbian owner Ranko (Ray) Dabizljevic leases 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 that promises “Elegant Dining & Entertainment,” you’ll find the maître’s stand under a white statue of a woman who looks like she’s about to dive into the water—maybe your wallet instead.. .If you are dining, the hostess will lead you to your table down a narrow aisle carpeted with Victorian wallpaper and lit by Tiffany lamps. A small room to your right contains a handful of low tables, with four chairs, around a series of long, leather-covered wooden booths. Smaller, two-seat tables are located under false bookcases along the east wall.
Beyond the dining area is the heart and soul of the place, The Longhorn Room: a square two-story space that is large enough to accommodate the huge crystal chandelier brought from a castle in Europe. Several small, low wooden tables fill this space, overlooked by large, ornately framed Rubenesque nudes and a widely smiling Jimmy Durante photo surrounded by the original Gaslight Club girls. Evening entertainment centers around the piano found in the middle of the west wall. While Dixieland Jazz once appeared, you will find the typical piano bar cover songs instead like what you hear in Redhead Piano Bar, Zebra Lounge or Davenport’s. Maybe it’s the gigantic chandelier overhead, but the piano looks a bit small, especially with the pile of music books stacked upon it. A portal under the large “Longhorn Room” sign hanging on the east wall leads to the kitchen, beyond which is a small aisle for servers which is flanked by two elevated 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. Rather than the shots you might have had at a place like the now-defunct Spike’s Rat Bar, this one comes in martini form, made with Limoncello and a lemon wedge. A rather pedestrian beer list (no craft brews, thank you) is counterpointed by a fine dessert selection of ports, cognacs, single malt whiskey, and a few other delectable spirits. Although once served in ceramic mugs, all drinks are now served in their usual glasses.
The menu is definitely aimed at those on a budget. Signature steaks and chops run $34-49, the top end of which is the Gaslight Steak (prime-bone-in rib chop), and surf & turf goes for $60+ (filet mignon and lobster tail) -all of which are served à la carte (expect $6 for a baked potato). For those who want a reduction in price, the Chicken Florentine and 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 friendly, slender, well-endowed, mostly Eastern European Gaslight Girls who wear low-cut tops, frills covering their behinds, fishnets or nylons, 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 distributed by smartly dressed busboys.
The first Gaslight Club opened on October 27, 1953 in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, by Burton Browne-lookalike Colonel Sanders who honestly felt he was a mountain lion in a previous life. The original Gaslight Club was in such high demand, it had to move to a larger space at 13 E. Huron (now a high-rise) that also housed the bar from the infamous Everleigh Club. A second Chicago location was added at the Palmer House (closed in 1988).
In 1956, the New York Club opened in a plush old mansion and featured Elizabeth Taylor as Gaslight Girl, while she was filming scenes there for Butterfield 8, for which she won and Academy Award. The Washington DC club opened in 1959 and then the Paris one in 1961. Gaslight Club O’Hare opened in 1973. After Burton Browne passed, board member Robert Fredricks ran the clubs until 1984 when Gaslight Club member Jim Roberts, Jr. took over. At its height, the Gaslight Club boasted more than 26,000 members, each with a gold-plated key. However, by the late 1980s and early 1990s, interest in members-only clubs waned significantly and both Gaslight and Playboy Clubs closed with increasing frequency. 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 an oddity, beloved by those few who know about it and enjoyed during breaks. While either the location and/or the cost of the entrées scares off most Chicagoans and suburbanites, the Gaslight Club is a unique original and definitely worth a visit. Get to O’Hare an hour before you need to be there, resist the urge to check into the small, nondescript bar near your door, and grab a drink at the Gaslight Club bar instead. Make sure you don’t let the Gaslight Girls make you miss your flight… For more information, check out the Gaslight Club website. Capital!
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