With the opening of SideDoor, our River North gastropub takes its place in the history of a Chicago landmark, the McCormick Mansion.
In the late 1800s, L. Hamilton McCormick and his English wife, Constance Plummer, built a grand Italian Renaissance home —complete with a ballroom that could hold 400 guests —on the corner of Ontario and Rush Streets. The mansion was to undergo many changes through the years.
It served as the family residence until Mr. McCormick’s death in 1934, when Peter Nuytens leased the building and created a members only nightclub, the Continental Casino. Entering guests were handed long tobacco pipes to enjoy as the smoke mingled with the incense in the air.
In 1937, Danish born restaurateur Frederick Chramer took over the mansion, remodeled it in Swedish Modern style and opened the Kungsholm Restaurant. Its $1.85 Smorgasbord buffet was considered the height of fine dining. Three years later, he turned the ballroom into what would become the internationally known Kungsholm Puppet Theater. Over the years, his unique 13-inch tall handcrafted stringless puppets would entertain over a million people with elaborately staged puppet operas.
The Fred Harvey restaurant chain acquired the lease in 1971, converting the Kungsholm Restaurant into Shipwreck Kelly’s and continuing the puppet shows on a smaller scale. Three years later, the puppet stage was remodeled and reopened as the New Theater at Kungsholm, this time featuring human actors. Unfavorably reviewed, both the restaurant and the New Theater soon folded.
Lawry’s The Prime Rib brought its first restaurant outside of California to Chicago when it found a home in the McCormick Mansion in 1974. The building’s interiors were extensively remodeled, bringing back the elegance of the original McCormick era along with the incomparable atmosphere of the Kungsholm. The sloped floor of the former theater was raised and leveled to accommodate Lawry’s famous rolling silver carts. Successive renovations modernized the restaurant’s public rooms without sacrificing the mansion’s style.
2014 marks another milestone in the building’s history with the transformation of the Edwardian Room on the mansion’s west side into SideDoor. The gastropub promises to be a welcome addition to the River North neighborhood; one that will certainly prove worthy of its unique setting in the historic McCormick Mansion.