Unlike a lot of our friends in Aurora, my best friend Vern and I, both singularly and more often together, spent a lot of time “downtown”, which is how we referred to the city of Chicago – mostly the area from the Gold Coast to Rush Street, through Old Town and, of course, Wrigleyville.
By the summer of ‘69 we were both members of the Playboy Club. This was the original club; a five-story building just west of Michigan Avenue at 116 E. Walton which Hefner had leased from Blackhawks owner Arthur Wirtz.
Entering the club, where you are greeted by a Door Bunny, to whom you showed your “key card”. This provided access and also served as an in-house credit card, After entering, a turn to the right and down a couple of steps led to a fairly typical, if rather high-end, cocktail lounge. To the left of the lobby was a reception office and an elevator.
The theme of the club was that it represented what was supposedly the adult male’s dream, the ideal “bachelor pad”. Each of the four floors offered the experience of a different room; Playroom, Penthouse, Library, and Living Room. These floors – accessed via the elevator – allowed one to move easily from cocktail lounge to cabaret to fine dining to dancing without ever leaving the building.
In 1972 Playboy acquired, and moved into the former “Palmolive Building” on the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton. The building, and the famous rotating “Lindburg” beacon at the top were renamed for the new owner. The site of the original club soon became a parking structure, and the charm and cachet of the old club was lost forever.
The bachelor pad concept notwithstanding, The Playboy Club was an excellent place to bring a date. It was especially exotic, I think, to the girls we knew in the suburbs, many of whom didn’t venture “downtown” all that often.
One in particular was an altogether charming and delightful girl from Plano –then working as a waitress at the N. Lake Street Big Boy – whom I dated for a while. On our very first outing we drove into the city to see that season’s smash hit movie “The Godfather” at the Chicago Theater. So as to impress her with my sophistication and worldly knowledge we started the evening with drinks at the bar above the 95th floor restaurant in the Hancock Building.
Stepping off the elevator we were presented with just the scene for which I had brought her. The half-floor lounge was a balcony over the restaurant, and the one and two-story high, floor to ceiling windows offered a twinkling array of billion city lights far below. My date turned to the Maître d’ and asked breathlessly, “Can we sit by a window?” He turned, scanned the nearly empty lounge, then smiled and said he didn’t think that would be a problem.
We had dinner at the “new” Playboy Club, and then hustled to the theater where we waited in line, barely making it in for the showing. I liked the movie – very much – as it seemed did everyone else. My date, however, admitted later that while she enjoyed the movie, all she could think of was going back to the Playboy Club and dancing. Which is just what we did, and the evening was a success.