Chicago Luxury Hotel -Palmer House History

The Empire Room Menu from 1940

Photo Scanned in from my Grandfather's Menu
Photo Scanned in from my Grandfather's Menu

Palmer House by Hilton

One of the nicest hotels of Chicago is The Palmer House owned by Hilton which houses The Empress Room since 1933. My grandfather went there in the early 1940’s and kept a signed menu by the handsome Orrin Tucker, who was a big bandleader, with Bonnie Baker as his singer. This orchestra didn’t reach the popularity of the Glen Miller band but were fairly well known. The menu is pictured here and, of course, the prices are shocking compared to today’s standards.

The Empire Dining Room

The Empire Room today
The Empire Room today

Shore Dinner

This section was in the middle of the menu for the special price of $3.00.
This section was in the middle of the menu for the special price of $3.00.

History of Palmer House

The Palmer House originally opened in September, 1870, and was destroyed by fire in 1871. Potter Palmer quickly rebuilt the seven story $13 million hotel and opened again in 1875.

It was plush from the beginning with Italian marble and rare mosaics. It was touted at this time as the nation’s only fireproof hotel.

In 1925, it was again replaced at the cost of $20 million, to a 25 story hotel that still stands. This hotel literally shines due to its constant restoration. It has a Beaux Arts ceiling which was meticulously restored by a Florentine artisan noted for his work on the Sistine Chapel.

It has more than 1600 deluxe rooms and 88 suites, all decorated beautifully. They have spacious double rooms and many have 2 baths and, of course, there is Penthouse Suite. Another thing that is important to some, Executive Levels privacy is one of the many things offered where you can take privacy for granted, as it has a staff of its own with a level of service that ensures the least possible distractions.

The Empress Menu First Page

Second page of Menu

Autograph of Orrin Tucker

Hotel Decor

As the longest operating hotel in American, this hotel has been a choice for every president since Ulysses S. Grant, numerous world leaders, celebrities and Chicago’s movers and shakers. The rooms all have upscale furnishings and The Empire Room is noted for its luxurious dining on French and Italian cuisine, plus a business man’s breakfast daily.

The Empire Room was designed from the beginning to have a ritzy look with French Empire motif, gold leaf moldings, a magnificent chandelier, lovely huge drapes, and they initially had French tables and chairs. The Palmer House was renowned for its entertainment, presentation of America's finest floor shows and outstanding dance orchestras.

WOULD JA MIND ~ Orrin Tucker & His Orchestra with Bonnie Baker

Orrin Tucker & His Orchestra - Billy

Entertainment of The Empire Room

The Empire Room has always had live entertainment. Some of the better known celebrities of old are Richard Cole, and his Opera club orchestra, the Lyric Trio, Carol Channing, Phyllis Diller (always a favorite!), Bobby Darin, Lou Rawls, Jimmy Durante, Maurice Chevalier, Liberace, Harry Belafonte and Peggy Lee. The night my grandfather was there Orrin Tucker and his orchestra, with singer Bonnie Baker was playing, hence the signed menu. The most memorable song Bonnie sang was Oh Johnnie, Oh Johnnie, Oh.

By the 1970’s big band were no longer the norm but the Empress Rooms still survived with its exquisite beauty intact and its delicious food. The Empire Room closed in 1972, and is now used for private functions, such as weddings. The 325 seating space and dance floor make it very desirable for a large event. However, plans are coming together for doing a supper club-type performances in the Empire room. They are also building a 250 car parking garage opening which will be self operated.

The Empire Room Advertisement


Obviously The Palmer House is a magnificent hotel to visit. The location is so convenient to Chicago's attractions and Chicago events. As a downtown Chicago hotel I doubt it can be beat if you are looking for exquisite décor, great service and outstanding food, plus entertainment. Certainly I imagine it is one of the more expensive hotels but I didn't check out today's prices. I thought the prices on the menu were just lovely!

My grandfather was a smart businessman and fared well even during the depression, but this menu is still special to me. He kept it as a memento of a special night.

© 2010 Pamela Oglesby

More by this Author

Comments 39 comments

RevLady profile image

RevLady 6 years ago from Lantana, Florida

Very interesting panarama of cherished moments in time. Beautiful!

Forever His,

Tom Whitworth profile image

Tom Whitworth 6 years ago from Moundsville, WV


The old hotels had so much character compared to the cookie cutter McMotels of today. I spent five nights in 1961 on an MYF trip to New York City in the William Howard Taft, and I felt like a big deal.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Rev Lady, Yes, it is nice to know my grandfather must have enjoyed his evening to keep the menu. I loved him very much so i thought it was a good hub topic with the long history of the hotel. Thanks for your comments.

Tom, You are right about the character of old hotels. I haven't stayed in many with that type of character but maybe someday. Thanks for your comments.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for your wonderfully written hub. You can see the work was carried with care and love. It makes a difference. Those twits of architects nowadays only put there glass and steel. You never a personal feeling. Also you don't know anymore if your in London, New York, Chicaco or somewhere else. Treatful.

ecoggins profile image

ecoggins 6 years ago from Corona, California

Very interesting. The place must be exquisite. Thank you for writing about it.

katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

What a fantastic review of the Chicago Hotel The Palmer House History, I was born there... Love IT! :)

Roberta99 profile image

Roberta99 6 years ago

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Empire Room at the Palmer House. Very interesting. Quite a history.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Hello, Thank you so much for your comments. I have an appreciation for old architecture also.

Ecoggins, Thanks so much for your comments.

Katiem, That was really unexpected that you were born there. How cool! I'm glad I did this hub. Thanks for your comments.

Roberta, It does have a unique history. Thanks for your comments.

Website Examiner 6 years ago

This is a remarkable piece of work, very creative and impressive. There is also this personal touch, which makes it all the more authentic.

jasper420 6 years ago

very interesting

Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Oh what grand memories are stored in the walls of this hotel. with many ghosts that wonder the halls, I love that picture so very much, sometimes I wish I lived in those times, and innocence still remains for many of that kind. Rate up and love this hub. I am still working on my problem my friend, thanks for asking you are such a good friend...

sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

It was fun to read the real menu, except I haven't had dinner yet and now I want a shore dinner. Whatever I make for myself can't possibly satisfy my yearning for Codfish Benedict. Though, come to think of it, the Wild Duck sounds good, too. And I have to have the Palmer House rolls and butter for fifteen cents.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Website Examiner, I appreciate your comments.

Jasper, Thank you for your comment.

Darlene, There is romance in that picture! Thanks for your comments.

Sheila, The menu is neat. Wish we could get that kind of food for the $3.00. Thanks for your comment.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

I will have to look up Potatoes Paul Bunyan - now that sounds interesting. Gotta love the prices! Wish sometimes we could turn back the clock - in more ways than one. Sounds like a lovely hotel.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Audry, Thanks so much for your comments.

G L Strout profile image

G L Strout 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

Thank you for a wonderful article. I love the menu! Oh, to get a shore dinner for $3.00! Love the Art Deco Menu. Wonderful article.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

G L Strout, That shore dinner really took my eye also. Wouldn't it be nice. Thank you for your comments.

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Too cool! First time I've ever wanted to go to the windy city! Thumbs up!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Habee, I agree. Thanks for your comment.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

The Palmer House and the Empire Room are very significant to me since Chicago was my home town, and the hotel was the site of many festive affairs. Thanks for reminding me, Pamela.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

drbj, I am so glad I had the menu to know to write the hub. I'm glad it brought back pleasant memories. Thanks for your comment.

ExpandYourMind profile image

ExpandYourMind 6 years ago from Midwest USA

Wonderful hub. I stayed there once with my mom and we loved it.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Expandyourmind, It looks like such a beautiful hotel. Thanks for your comment.

nancy_30 profile image

nancy_30 6 years ago from Georgia

I love reading about historical places such as this hotel. Thank you for sharing a wonderful hub.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Nancy, Thank you so much for your comment.

Debbie 5 years ago

Thank you for posting all this wonderful information. My Step-Father, Charlie Campbell, worked in the Empire Room for 40 years. He died last year at the age of 89, oh, the stories we heard. I was very fortunate to have Thanksgiving dinner there when I was about 7. I've love the Palmer House since I was a little girl. Everytime I am downtown, I just walk through. It's like going back somewhere in time.

Thanks again,


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

Debbie, I think that is a beautiful story and I am so glad you found this hub that was a special meaning for your. Thanks so much for your comments.

billrobinson profile image

billrobinson 5 years ago from CA, USA

Talk about royalty dinners! This is cool.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

billrobinson, Thank you for your comment.

ADS 5 years ago

I have been staying at Palmer House most weeks for over 4 months. It is amazing how many different room layouts they have compared to today's hotels; certain I've been in at least 15 different layouts. Some aren't exactly user-friendly, small bathrooms with sub-optimal ergonomics, but I still really enjoy the place. They have pictures of many of the entertainers and when they played the Empire room. They are awesome, very few of them alive now. Jerry Lewis, Sid Ceasar. Rat pack - separate pictures, but haven't seen Sammy Davis Jr yet. Dorthy Dandridge - wow! Julie London, on and on! Reminds me of watching TV at home as a kid. Time was so simple then, comedians were funny instead of crass. I'm sure the hotel is under almost continuous renewal with 1600 rooms. I'm betting room lighting isn't near original, but it is period and matches the rest of the central décor which I expect is largely original. Magnificent place, great location if you're working downtown; our corp rate is under $200/night, so I'm guessing folks that shop ahead/use priceline can sometimes get that rate, but they sell out pretty much every week!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

ADS, It still sounds like a marvelous place to stay. I would love to see it based on your account. Thanks for your descriptions and enjoy your stay.

Ron Smolen 5 years ago

In the early 80's, there was an attempt to re-create the Big Band Dinner Dances in the Empire Room. I attended with my wife and enjoyed an evening of dinner and dancing to the Norm Ladd 10 piece Orchestra.. sadly with only 4 or 5 other couples in attendance.

I have since performed several parties and weddings in the Empire Room, Red Laquer Room and the Grand Ballroom. The Empire Room accoustis are by far the best.

WIth all the remodeling, I too have contacted the hotel numerous times in an attempt to generate a new interest in re-starting something in the Empire Rroom... but all attempts have fallen on dead ears.

Ron Smolen

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

Ron Smolen, Thank you for telling us this information. It is sad that this wonderful place is not interested in recreated something so special.

susan54 profile image

susan54 5 years ago

such an interesting read. Chicago is one of the few places I have not been yet. thanks

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

susan54, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

I think so too. I appreciate your comments.

trusouldj profile image

trusouldj 3 years ago from Indiana

Creme of Lettuce ... OMG ... I'm guessing that was popular at the time, but I can't imagine :( Great hub.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States Author

trusouldj, I'm sure things have changed since that time, and that one does sound odd. Thanks for your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States Author

SamitaJassi, Thank you for your comment.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article