Editor’s note: The story was originally published on June 24, 2005, as part of a weeklong series to commemorate the 25th anniversary of “The Blues Brothers.” The Sun-Times is republishing the stories to mark the 40th anniversary of the movie in 2020.
Chez Paul was once considered one of the most romantic restaurants in the city.
In “The Blues Brothers,” Jake Blues — played by John Belushi — shattered that image when he faked a French accent and asked the gentleman at the next table to sell him his wife and daughters.
Today, its dining room serves as a conference room for the great minds who determine what will be in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Britannica is now owned by Bocar Investment Management, a Chicago trading firm that bought the building in 1994. Chez Paul was forced to close.
Now, there isn’t even a sign on the building at Rush and Erie. There is a dry-erase board on one wall in the main dining room and a large wooden conference table in the middle. Bocar CEO Don Yannias said the building needed lots of repair after years as a high-traffic eatery.
“It was a candle-lit, white-tablecloth restaurant,” he said. “When you turned up the lights and took out the white tableclothes, things started looking not so nice.”
Food called ‘dull’
The 130-year-old mansion was originally the private residence of Robert Hall McCormick while he served as U.S. ambassador to Italy. Chez Paul moved to the building in 1964 after 20 years on Delaware. But the original owner’s son, Bill Contos, died in 1993, and it never recovered.
“I don’t think I want to throw away a hundred bucks in a restaurant that appears to be fine dining in name only,” Sun-Times food critic Pat Bruno wrote in a 1994 review in which he labeled the food “dull.”
Moviemakers filmed outside the restaurant, showing the Bluesmobile doing a U-turn, then a fishtail into a parking space in front. The dining room — where actor Paul Reubens of Pee-wee Herman fame waited on the Blues Brothers — and its French doors and marble pillars were re-created on a set.