Kapos: University Club’s stunning transformation

SHARE Kapos: University Club’s stunning transformation

Executive chef Mark Baker is leading the University Club renovation project. | Shia Kapos/Sun-Times

The venerable University Club is adding three new restaurants, including a cyber cafe and outdoor dining with panoramic views of Millennium Park.

The additional 15,000 square feet will transform the club, which was started in 1887 by wealthy Ivy Leaguers (men only) who wanted a place to feel at home.

The $10 million-plus renovation, to be finished by Labor Day, is expanding into neighboring property.

In 2004, longtime member Anthony Lapasso, an architect, sold his 30 S. Michigan Ave. property to the University Club, located next door on Michigan and Monroe streets.

Now the club is connecting the seventh and eight floors of that building to its main property.

A view of the University Club’s new terrace. | Shia Kapos/Sun-Times

A view of the University Club’s new terrace. | Shia Kapos/Sun-Times

The expansion includes a year-round casual restaurant, an intimate bar, two private dining rooms and a casual lounge with big-screen TVs and comfy couches to watch sports, concerts or, even, political debates. In the daytime, the lounge will serve as a cyber cafe.

The icing on the cake will be an outdoor terrace on the new roof of the 30 S. Michigan building.

The new venues will have a modern feel while still keeping old-school touches like the high ceilings notable in the club’s Cathedral Hall.

“We want to make sure it’s related to the club but isn’t exactly the same,” said Mark Baker, a longtime hospitality executive who is leading the renovation. He’s also the club’s chef.

An expansion project would have been unheard of a decade ago when private clubs struggled in the economic downturn. There’s been a turnaround on Chicago’s club scene. In 2014, the nearby Chicago Club underwent its own renovation and added a rooftop terrace. And the Arts Club recently opened the Drawing Room cocktail lounge.

“We’re seeing membership grow and millennials like the idea of private clubs,” Baker said.

While University Club remains exclusive, the smelly stogies are long gone. Men can walk in without ties and women, who got the OK to join in 1976, now account for 40 percent of membership.

The club has about 2,100 members in the Chicago area and another 1,000 in other categories. Membership director Francesca Stirrat said those numbers have gone up since last year. Memberships start at $144 per month. There’s also an initiation fee. It’s not cheap, but it’s less than joining a country club.

University Club isn’t raising fees or charging an assessment for the expansion, a sign it’s in good financial shape. The club, which operates as a nonprofit, has a $26 million budget.

“Members are getting 15,000 square feet of new facilities that everyone can use for no more than they’re paying today,” said Baker. “And that’s a great story.”

Rauner cracks eggs for luck

Gov. Bruce Rauner | Sun-Times file photo

Gov. Bruce Rauner | Sun-Times file photo

Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife, Diana, celebrated Easter Greek-style.

They joined Eleni and Jimmy Bousis at their home in Northbrook to celebrate the holiday along with 150 guests. Lamb was cooked on a spit. There were trays and trays of Greek sweets. Guests danced Greek line dances and played the traditional egg-cracking game. If your egg is the strongest you can count on good luck for the year.

I hear the governor’s egg was a winner.

Jimmy Bousis owns Cermak Fresh Market grocery stores. And Eleni Bousis is chairman of the Hippocratic Cancer Research Foundation, which supports the Robert Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Cancer.

The Bousises are friends of the Rauners and were early donors to his political campaign.

BMO Harris’ wishing well

BMO Harris Bank has set up a wishing fountain outside the Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue.

David Casper, president and CEO of BMO Harris Bank

David Casper, president and CEO of BMO Harris Bank

Need help with rent or a car payment? Or have big dreams for your neighborhood — like a park? BMO Harris President and CEO David Casper said your wish may be granted. He’s not just the guy in charge. Casper is one of the longest-serving employees at BMO Harris, having started with Harris Bank in 1978 right out of college.

The Chicago-based subsidiary of BMO Financial Group is making the gesture as part of its 200th anniversary. Along with granting personal wishes, the bank has donated some $41 million to communities across the U.S. and Canada.

More than $11 million is being distributed throughout Chicago, the bank’s largest market, including to the Chicago Public Library, Chicago Public Schools and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.

“It’s a way to celebrate the company and the communities we serve,” Casper told me.

There’s no water in the wishing fountain, which instead uses technology to create a ripple effect every time a wish is made. And given it’s an Internet world, wishes can be made by visiting www.BMO200.com.

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