Not to be confused with Gaslight on Racine, the Gaslight Club located at the O’Hare Hilton is the last of the original 1920s-era speakeasies that inspired the old Playboy Clubs. The waiters are made up of adorable and charming can-can girls dressed in corsets, tassels, and fishnet stockings. The Gaslight Club extends even beyond that, attracting a transient business clientele with few regulars hailing from the city or the suburbs. Gaslight was open to keyed members until 2001 and is now available to anyone wanting a cocktail, steak or seafood dinner, and live piano entertainment in an elegant setting.
The O’Hare Hilton is located across from Terminal Three, within the boundaries of O’Hare International Airport. Visitors can fly, take the blue “L” line, or park in the short-term parking lot. The Gaslight Club is located at the northwest end of the lobby, to the right of reception. Serbian owner Ranko (Ray) Dabizljevic rents the Hilton space and advertises the dress code as “commercial appeal,” a rarity these days.
To the left of the framed Gaslight sign that promises “Fine Dining and Entertainment” you’ll find the maitre d ‘under a white statue of a woman who looks like she’s about to dive into the water, maybe her wallet … If you’re dining , the hostess will lead you to your table down a narrow hallway carpeted with Victorian wallpaper and illuminated by Tiffany lamps. A small room to your right features a handful of low four-seater tables, opposite a series of tall, leather-upholstered wooden booths. Smaller two-seater tables are found under false bookcases along the east wall.
Beyond the dining room is the heart and soul of the place, The Longhorn Room: a two-story square space that is large enough to accommodate the massive crystal chandelier brought from a castle in Europe. Several small, low wooden tables fill this space, seen by large ornate framed Rubenesque nudes and a photo of Jimmy Durante smiling broadly and surrounded by the original Gaslight Club girls. The night entertainment centers around the piano are located in the middle of the western wall. While Dixieland Jazz was once featured, you’ll find typical piano bar versions like the ones you’d hear at Redhead Piano Bar, Zebra Lounge, or Davenport’s. Maybe it’s the gigantic chandelier on the ceiling, but the piano seems a bit small, especially with the stack of music books stacked loosely. A portal under the large “Longhorn Room” sign that hangs on the east wall leads to the kitchen, beyond which is a small server corridor that is flanked by two raised tables.
The bar is at the north end of the room with an impressive wooden back bar framed by stately columns. The signature cocktail is the lemon drop. Instead of the shots you might have had at a place like the now-defunct Spike’s Rat Bar, this one comes in martini form, made with Limoncello and a lemon wedge. A rather pedestrian beer list (no craft beers, thanks) has its counterpoint with a fine selection of desserts of port, cognac, single malt, and a few other delicious spirits. Although they were once served in ceramic mugs, now all drinks are served in their regular glassware.
The menu is definitely geared towards those with an expense account. Signature steaks and chops are $ 34-49, the top end of which is the Gaslight Steak (premium bone-in rib chop), and the surf & turf is $ 60 + (filet mignon and lobster tail), all which are served à la card (expect $ 6 for a baked potato). For those who want to lower the price, the Florentine chicken and the wienerschnitzel are recommended. For dessert, the lemon mousse hits the spot pretty well, though Eli’s chocolate mousse and cheesecake are likely to be more popular.
Of course, dinner and drinks are served by friendly, slender, well-endowed Gaslight girls, mostly from Eastern Europe, with low-cut tops, ruffles covering their behinds, fishnet stockings or nylon stockings, and high heels, similar to a Playboy bunny outfit, the tail (it was this outfit that inspired the bunny outfit, after all). Water and bread (served on a cutting board) are served by smartly dressed waiters.
The first Gaslight Club was opened on October 27, 1953, in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, by Burton Browne, a resemblance to Colonel Sanders who honestly felt like a cougar in a previous life. The original Gaslight Club was in such high demand that it had to move to a larger space at 13 E. Huron (now a skyscraper) that also featured the infamous Everleigh Club bar. A second Chicago location was added at Palmer House (closed in 1988).
In 1956, the New York Club opened in a luxurious old mansion and featured Elizabeth Taylor as a Gaslight Girl, while filming scenes there for Butterfield 8, for which she won an Academy Award. The Washington DC club opened in 1959 and then Paris in 1961. The O’Hare Gaslight Club opened in 1973. After Burton Browne’s death, board member Robert Fredricks ran the clubs until 1984, when Jim Roberts, Jr. ., a longtime Gaslight Club member reigns. At its peak, the Gaslight Club numbered more than 26,000 members, each with a gold-plated key. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, interest in member-only clubs waned significantly and the Gaslight and Playboy clubs were closed with increasing frequency. Until a new Playboy Club was opened in Las Vegas, Gaslight Club O’Hare was the only one of its kind to survive.
Today, the Gaslight Club is considered a rarity, appreciated by those few who know it and enjoyed on the layovers. While the location and / or cost of tickets scares most Chicagoans and suburbs, the Gaslight Club is a one-of-a-kind original and definitely worth a visit. Just arrive at O’Hare an hour before you need to be there, resist the urge to sneak into the nondescript little bar near your door, and instead have a drink at the Gaslight Club bar. Just make sure you don’t let Gaslight Girls make you miss your flight … For more information, visit the Gaslight Club website. Capital!