Gold Coast space that once housed Maxim’s Restaurant gets new lease on life
The City Council’s Housing Committee agreed to sell the city-owned space and its companion parking area to local resident Adam Bilter and his 24 E. Goethe LLC for an appraised value of $680,000.
During the `60’s, 70’s and early `80’s, Maxim’s Restaurant in the Gold Coast was the epitome of elegant dining in Chicago.
Famed Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg designed the Astor Tower Hotel and turned the basement into what he hoped would be an exact replica of Maxim’s in Paris. It was the Art Nouveau epitome of red velvet elegance operated by the architect’s wife, Nancy, from 1963 until 1982.
On opening night, Nancy and Bertrand Goldberg were seated at a table with none other than Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fontayn, according to an account at the time on the architect’s website.
The celebrity sighting was apparently not at all unusual. The Beatles chose to stay at the Astor during a 1960’s trip to Chicago, and Elton John rented a suite there in the 1970’s.
Now, the 8,120-square feet of basement space that once housed Maxim’s has a new lease on life.
The City Council’s Housing Committee on Tuesday agreed to sell the city-owned space and its companion parking area to local resident Adam Bilter and his 24 E. Goethe LLC for an appraised value of $680,000.
“We intend to re-open it by preserving the interior, but operating it as a members-only private social club that will not be open to the general public and, instead, is intended for members, most of which as you can imagine, will live right here in the neighborhood,” said Bilter, who owns a condo unit in the 1300 N. Astor Street building that once housed the hotel.
According to a description of the property posted on the city’s website, the restaurant space features a “dramatic entry staircase, plush décor and a working kitchen.” The restaurant had its door marked “24 E. Goethe” around the corner from the hotel’s main entrance on Astor Street.
It was located down the block from the Pump Room during a time when dining elegance was the norm among Chicago celebrities, movers and shakers. It was a far cry from the casual dining and dress that dominates Chicago nightlife today.
Robert McKenna, an assistance commissioner for Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, told council members the Goldberg family took over the Maxim’s space in 1979, when the Astor Tower Hotel was converted into a residential condominium.
“Maxim’s Restaurant closed in 1982 and the Goldberg family donated the Maxim’s space to the city in 2000,” McKenna said Tuesday.
“For some time, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events tried to rent out the space for special events. But that was never very successful.”
The sale to Bilter culminates a “thorough and continuing community process” over the last year that included heavy participation from the Gold Coast Neighbors Association, McKenna said.
Local Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) has written to support the sale to Bilter “contingent on the buyer continuing cooperation with her office and the Gold Coast Neighbors Association to “mitigate any impacts on the neighborhood.”
The property already has a zoning designation that “allows for private social clubs as a special use,” McKenna said. The condo declaration also allows for the basement space to be used for “commercial purposes pertinent to a gourmet restaurant or for any other lawful purpose,” he said.
“Furthermore, based on a through review of the documents, the condominium association does not have a right to approve or deny the sale or the proposed project,” McKenna said.
Smith moved to Chicago in 1979, the year Maxim’s Restaurant opened, but couldn’t afford the pricey menu.
“I was in law school and at the U.S. attorney’s office and things like that. Going to discos was never my scene,” she said.
Smith called the private social club a perfect way to revive the storied space.
“The alternative would be to wreck it — and the interior, as I understand it, is also protected by a landmark’s determination or by the covenant,” Smith said.
“An operator who will seek to restore this lovely interior would be doing a service to the community as well. “