I remember 50 years ago when my parents took me to New York City for the first time and I saw the Pan Am Building, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. The majesty, the character, the size and scope of those iconic buildings was a memory I’ve carried for many years.
Not long after that trip to Manhattan, we made the trek from tiny O’Fallon, Illinois to Chicago for the first time. Of course, I remember the Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building. . . and the red glow of the neon sign high above 701 North Michigan Avenue.
It read: Allerton Tip-Top-Tap.
It took a while to see that sign close-up, but I did during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s 2014 Open House Chicago. The Warwick Allerton Hotel was one of the most popular sites during OHC with lines winding a block down East Huron Street.
The hotel, designated an official Chicago Landmark in 1998, first opened in 1924. The original construction cost was $4 million. The style was something of a departure in the Roaring Twenties: Renaissance Revival. The local shop Murgatroyd & Ogden Architects designed the 25-story building.
It was originally a men’s-only hotel. Eventually, women were welcome, but on separate floors from men. In fact, each gender had their own elevators. One of the original residents was William Wrigley. Another noteworthy early resident was Louis Skidmore, founder of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
The Tip-Top-Tap cocktail lounge was THE place to be seen in the 1940s. Don McNeill’s “Breakfast Club” was broadcast from the TTT, where guests included Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis and Jimmy Stewart.
The Tip-Top-Tap lounge closed in 1961, but it will re-open, thanks to a massive renovation. Actually, the entire hotel will be rehabbed by Warwick International Hotels, which purchased the property earlier this year. One staffer told me there’s no specific timetable for completion of the reno project, but Warwick president Richard Chiu isn’t going to rush.
“We’re going through extensive research as to where to have the new Tip-Top-Tap,” she said. “It probably won’t be here (where the original lounge was located) for logistic reasons. The owner wants to bring back the lounge, and respect history. We’re starting renovation in first quarter of 2015, in the motor lobby, and will continue all the way up. They want to take their time. The owner doesn’t buy hotels to flip them, he’s more of a collector, he wants to do it right.