Chances are that if you were sitting at the bar at the Cape Cod Room in Chicago’s Drake Hotel that night in 1954, and the laughing young couple next to you started in on the tradition of carving their initials in the bar, you would have known whom they were. The initials might not have rung a bell. But you would have known their names.
All sorts of royalty would pass through The Cape Cod Room before it ended its 83 year old run this past weekend. There were real life Princesses and kings, show biz luminaries, politicians and sporting legends. From Sinatra to Ronald Reagan to Michael Jordan, Sophia Loren and Aretha Franklin to Elizabeth Taylor and Julie Andrews and Chicago’s Cusack family.
The Cape Cod Room drew the famous and infamous. Frank Nitti, who came after Al Capone, even had an office in The Drake for awhile. So you know that Nitti had to have dined at the Cape Cod Room.
All those famous people. Spectacular food. In an unpretentious room built for soul soothing warmth on the coldest winter night. But none of that’s the real story of the place. Of course all that matters. But it’s not what gives a place an 83 year old run, and truth told, could have kept the place going for another 83 years with just a little more long term thinking. Hunker down to the core of this softly lit, warm oasis next to a looming Lake Michigan and you’ll find what’s true here is the same thing that’s true about any truly great element of Chicago. It’s that Chicago, above all else, is a crossroads.
And anything can happen at a crossroads. When you put down roots and decide to stay—like the Cape Cod Room did for all those years, then sooner or later the world will pass by your door. As will your neighbor.
Pass by or stay. Richer or poorer. But certainly more alive in the world and in spirit. At a crossroads all things are possible.
Because here at the crossroads, you, me, anyone of us can sit down at the bar right next to that young couple, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio.
Their marriage lasted less than a year. But the love went on. When she died, he was the one who made the funeral arrangements. And then for 20 years, every single week, he sent flowers to her grave.
The initials MM and JD were still there carved in the bar this past weekend.
Because at a crossroads . . . anything can happen.
Even that which lasts, as Algren would say, “for keeps.”
Photo Credit: Trip Advisor