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Chicago Luxury Hotel -Palmer House History

Updated on June 16, 2019
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I love beautiful scenery and the changes of the season offer us some scenes of beauty and I love to travel. Learn from travel experience.

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.

It has been renovated again and is open.

Luxury Dining


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 bands were no longer the norm, but the Empress Rooms still survived with its exquisite beauty intact and its delicious food.

The Empire Room closed for a period of time in 1972, and was used for private functions, such as weddings. The 325 seating space and dance floor make it very desirable for a large event.

However, plans were always coming together for opening 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 the 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.

The copyright, renewed in 2018, for this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.


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