The real Playboy Club
Former Bunnies, performers and Hugh Hefner remember the Chicago hangout.
The sexual revolution was conceived, in part, along a ten-block stretch on Chicago’s Near North Side. The self-proclaimed father of the rebellion was Hugh M. Hefner, a Steinmetz High School grad who left a languishing career as an advertising copywriter to start what would become the world’s most famous girlie magazine.
The foundation of Hefner’s movement was Playboy magazine, founded in 1953 and moved into the old Palmolive Building at 919 North Michigan Avenue in 1967. The 37-story Art Deco headquarters was emblazoned with the word playboy in nine-foot-tall letters, while a lighthouse-style beacon atop the building illuminated the night sky.
Within walking distance was Hefner’s home, the 72-room Playboy Mansion at 1340 North State Parkway, complete with an indoor pool featuring a “woo grotto” concealed by a rushing waterfall, a below-ground bar accessible by descending a fireman’s pole with underwater views of Hef’s pool, a game room, a bowling alley and his famous round, rotating bed.
But it was the Playboy Club, at 116 East Walton Street, where the public would come closest to being part of the revolution. Opened on February 29, 1960, the four-story club featured sumptuous steaks, tall cocktails, marquee entertainment and best of all, beautiful women dressed in skimpy “Bunny” outfits.
A key to the club would allow the common man a fleeting taste of the Playboy fantasy, typified by fast cars, sloe gin, cool jazz and hot women. The magazine, club and mansion formed a triumvirate that shattered America’s stuffy sexual mores in the early ’60s.
“The ’60s were an exciting time for me and for Playboy,” Hefner says on the phone from the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. “It was the beginning of so much for America and for Playboy. And it was all happening right there on the Near North Side. That was my kingdom.”
Now, a small piece of that Chicago kingdom may be reclaimed, as plans were just announced for a new Playboy Club slated to open just a few blocks from the site of the original Chicago club in the Gold Coast.