#240: The Drake’s Real Chicago

November 8th, 2013

Real Chicago is a white woman in a white dress walking down a corridor lined with mirrors.

According to the ad on the hotel wall, at least.

Real Chicago is a $15 order of Salt Cod Croquettes.

According to the Small Bites menu at the Coq d’Or restaurant downstairs.

Real Chicago apparently has luxury jewelry stores, bars over the windows of the ground level kitchen storage spaces on the building’s north side and views into the magnificently chandeliered ballroom above. Real Chicago has $42 parking and thank you notes from Princess Di and Woody Allen.

“Thank you for all the wonderful suits,” Woody Allen wrote.

Pat Morita wrote “Arigato” after his stay in Real Chicago.

“Real Chicago” is the slogan of The Drake Hotel, a Gold Coast (really Near North Side, shhhh!) wonderland of ritz and opulence that has served tourists and the glamorous since 1920.

There are nicer hotels. And there are older ones. There are fancier ones and richer ones. There are hotels along the waltzing downtown strips of women in furs and men begging for pocket change that are more renowned and schmancy. But none other than The Drake have the balls to call themselves “Real Chicago.”

“Real Chicago” is the slogan, not the motto. The motto, as embroidered into the hotel’s carpeting beneath a crest of an axe-wielding dragon, is “Aquila non capit muscas.”

“An eagle does not catch flies.”

It’s the Drake family coat of arms, so the place comes by it honestly, but it means there’s work that’s beneath a certain type of person.

They’re the eagles. We catch the flies.

This place purports to be Real Chicago? This place dares?

Well, it is.

This fortress of wealth with the windows barred below the ballroom is Real Chicago. The really real, 100-percent City That Works.

It’s the totem of a town of haves and have-nots. It’s a shining symbol of wealth excused by history. That’s the way it was, so it’s still OK. It’s not a gilded turd of profligacy — it’s a holdout from an earlier era.

It was “high-society’s first choice in opulence” as the swells of the ’30s out-drank and out-partied the Depression-era bums outside, according to the hotel’s website.

“The Drake Hotel guests see today provides the grandeur of the past and accommodations fitting for today’s high society,” the site says.

History excuses these things, makes them cute and even natural. Of course there are bars on the windows of the kitchen. Of course Woody Allen gets suits. Of course fly-catching is not the work of eagles. That’s the way it was! History! Class! Culture! Gatsby or some shit!

There’s an Anglican hymn with which I would like to close this rich boy’s meditation on wealth. It’s about a God who put everything just how He wants it, from the color on a bird’s wing to poverty.

God made some rich and some poor because that’s how the malevolent thug likes it.

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

God would stay at The Drake. God would stay in Real Chicago.

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You are currently reading #240: The Drake’s Real Chicago by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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