As families and friends gather on Dec. 31, a new year about to blossom, the lights will dim, the kitchen will grow cold and a Chicago institution will cease.
The venerable Cape Cod Room, where families gathered for generations, where the politically powerful and the stars of Hollywood dined on fresh seafood, will close it doors.
No more Oysters Rockefeller and lobster. No more crab cakes and Dover sole. No more cups of hot Bookbinder soup with a dose of sherry. No more tradition.
“As I say in my signature when I send emails it's a unique, warm hospitable experience when you come to the Cape Cod Room,” said general manager Theodore Daskalopoulos, as he sat at a table with linen, fine silver and wine glasses waiting for one of the few remaining evenings when patrons will dine.
The Drake Hotel, where it is located, will undergo renovations, including the arcade where the restaurant sat just off East Lake Shore Drive at the corner of Michigan Avenue.
The restaurant, with its dark wood interior, opened in 1933, as Chicago celebrated the Century of Progress. Prohibition was coming to an end and a meat and potatoes town became home to the country’s first fine-dining seafood restaurant.
For years coats and ties were the order of the day as families mingled with the famous amid red-checkered tablecloths.
Who walked in the door?
Winston Churchill, Presidents Reagan, Bush and Kennedy all dined there. As did a who’s who of Hollywood, including Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.
In 1954 Marilyn Monroe cozied up to the wooden bar along side her newly wed husband baseball great Joe DiMaggio.
“And the rumor is she had one of the first versions of a Cosmopolitan that everybody so enjoys today,” Daskalopoulos recalled. “They were allowed to carve initials on the bar.
The MM and JD became the restaurants most popular attraction.
Among the customs that set the restaurant apart was that when Oprah or Aretha or Michael Jordan arrived for dinner they did so without the glare of the paparazzi.
"We did not publicize the names,” Daskalopoulos said. “This was a place to just have a quiet dinner.”
The late John Cardinal Cody held court in table 34.
The Daley’s dined here as did Jayne Byrne and husband Jay McMullen. And former alderman Ed Vrdolyak sat at his favorite booth, with his back to the wall, providing a glimpse of those entering the room.
But now as 2016 ends, so to does the Cape Cod Room and jobs for staff, many having waited on tables for more than a quarter century.
“It has a lot of emotions, Daskalopoulos said. “But it is what it is.”
Some of the restaurants favored dishes will still be available in other hotel restaurants, including Bookbinder soup.
Perhaps fittingly, the grande dame of seafood restaurants closes its door amid fireworks, new resolutions and a final embrace of a passing year.
So to those who celebrated here, those who marked so many special occasions, raise your glass, remember a moment and bid adieu with the words of the late Bob Hope: “Thanks for the memories.”