The Palmer House presents HISTORY IS HOTT.
Full disclosure… I love Chicago history. And I’ve always loved the Palmer House! I’ve had the pleasure to visit it as both a hotel guest and event guest. And I even had a membership to the fitness center two decades back. The grandeur is breathtaking. The attention to detail is exquisite. Stepping into the lobby is stepping into the glamorous past.
When asked if I would be willing to participate in the HISTORY IS HOTT tour, I jumped at the chance. The tour started with lunch in the Lockwood Restaurant. Tour guests received options on a three course meal with a red or white wine accompaniment.
French onion soup or Autumn green salad
Salmon or Spaghetti alla chitarra or Lockwood burger
Bertha’s Famous Brownie. The chocolate confection was created at Bertha Palmer’s request by the Palmer House pastry chef for the 1893 Columbian Exposition World Fair.
The Lockwood Restaurant spills out into the majestic lobby. The vibe is still elegant but with a contemporary look. Fixtures and furniture are not as ornate. The streamlined looks are accented by modern lighting. It’s the perfect transitional spot to leave the daily pressures and wade into the Palmer House luxurious ambiance. We were sat in a cozy two person leather booth awaiting the magic to start.
Our Lockwood server was unexpectedly abrupt and out-of-place in this overall lovely experience. She didn’t so much greet us as demand what we wanted. A bit of a speed bump to start out my posh outing. And although I loved the french onion soup, the burger was heavy on onions. Ironically, the smelly onions went with the Chicago history lesson. But my breath didn’t go with my ladies-that-lunch facade.
Following the meal, Master Storyteller Ken Price introduced himself and the tour. He did this in the main lobby. Although most of his narration happens in more secluded spots, the few segments out in public spaces are challenging to hear. The massive rooms and the chattering public forced me to strain to try to catch a word or two. I missed a lot. Fortunately, the majority of the tour actually takes place in an intimate exhibit room.
The Potter and Bertha Museum is covered with pictures, newspaper clippings and historic documents. Price ushers us into the room where everyone takes a seat around a table overflowing with books. The room feels more like his own personal library as he regales us with tales of the Potters’ courtship, the Great Chicago Fire, the World’s Fair, and the significant influence the Potters had on shaping Chicago. Instead of a dusty, scripted timeline, Price animatedly illustrated the historical moment with anecdotes. He gave the Potters’ personality. It was as if he was sharing a personal recollection. He was captivating.
The entire tour was supposed to be 90 minutes. We actually were in the museum for two hours and then spent another hour strolling through the Empire Room, the Grand and State Ballrooms, the Red Lacquer Room and the confectioners’ kitchen. I was transfixed the entire time. Jen and I were completely captivated by the amazing Bertha Palmer. Not only was she a savvy business woman, she advanced the women’s movement, introduced Chicago to Impressionism and advocated for child welfare among working women. She did it all while dressed in haute couture. At the end of the tour, Jen and I decided to toast Bertha in the lounge bearing her hubby’s name. It was an ideal afternoon of the past meets our present.
I highly recommend HISTORY IS HOTT as a unique, intimate Chicago experience.
Running Time: Four hours included lunch and a break
At Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, 17 E. Monroe
To book a tour, call 312-917-3404