Okay, I blame all the folks over at Nancy Nall's blawg. They get to talking about places and things that I visited when I was last a resident of Ohio (1955-69) and the memories start coming back. Hooray for them!
This came back to me as a result of a discussion of notable Chicago restaurants and hotels.
For several years, when my four siblings and I were kids growing up in Defiance, OH, our parents would take us on the train to Chicago right after Thanksgiving. We would stay at the Pearson Hotel, which is no more–the fancy downtown shopping center Water Tower Place rests on its bones. I had my first English muffin ever when we had breakfast at the Pearson, which was served by a waiter who remembered all of our orders without writing them down.
After breakfast we would motor over to Marshall Fields, where we would Christmas shop with all of the money we had saved up, and gawk at the decorated windows with the moving tableaux, and eventually purchase plenty of Frango mints to take home (who knew that they actually originated from the Seattle Department store Frederick & Nelson? we didn’t that’s for sure).
Each time we’d go, my folks would take us out for one very nice dinner at a very nice restaurant. I can remember two of them.
One was at the Kungsholm, a Scandanavian restaurant where I had my first pickled herring at the grand buffet that they served in the evening. Mother remembers that we amazed the wait staff when the five of us kids ate all the watermelon they had reserved for the evening buffet that night. After dinner, we went downstairs where they had a puppet show on a small stage and gave performances composed of the music from Broadway shows. We saw “Damn Yankees” that way. There was an older gentleman sitting in front of me with a toupee that fit very badly–it was much too small in the back. But I bet he really liked being able to be a red head late in his life.
The other dinnner was more spectacular. It was held at the Conrad Hilton (although my mother maintains it was at The Palmer House) and we took a taxi from the Pearson to get there, which was a real event since there were 5 kids and two parents squeezed in to one taxi. I recall the taxi we took had two seats that popped up from the floor to make sure there was enough seating for seven people. We arrived without incident, were seated in the level above the main restaurant floor, and ordered dinner. My younger brother John had some sort of tantrum during dinner and refused to order anything or just ordered an appetizer, can’t remember exactly what happened. That was a rare occasion when one of us would cross the parents. And things were rather tense after that.
However, the raison d’etre for going to the Conrad Hilton was revealed after all but the coffee cups and dessert plates were removed. The stage in front of the two tier restaurant drew back and there in all its crystal glory was an ice rink. With ice skaters skating to music. Just like Holiday on Ice only smaller. What a nice evening’s entertainment to take the kids to!
Until the last act. The orchestra cleared its collective throat and roared into a rousing rendition of “The Stripper” as a woman covered entirely in balloons skated out and the other skaters took to skating around her while popping those balloons with pins. I’m sure in retrospect, she must’ve had a body suit on, else the frostbite would’ve been compensable, but it was truly a moment of horror for my parents. 5 children under the age of 16. My brother John put his head down on the table, and brother Mark crawled under the table where he stayed until it was over and the lights came back up. I can’t remember what Barbie and Peggy did.
But it was an evening that I will never forget. Though I have no idea if the food was any good or not.