Is the Midwest’s only great magazine heading into the sunset?by Rachel Shteir / April 25, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
At 7pm on the evening of 12th April in Chicago, about 20 people were gathered inside the Gold Star Sardine Bar, a tiny, dimly lit cabaret tucked away at the end of a corridor on the ground floor of 680 North Lake Shore Drive. After 59 years in Chicago, Playboy Enterprises was moving its operation to Los Angeles. The magazine, which had operated on the 15th and 16th floors since 1989, was hosting a party to bid farewell to the city where it had begun.
North Lake Shore Drive is in the smart Streeterville neighbourhood in downtown Chicago. From the Playboy offices—which will be occupied shortly by the Children’s Memorial Hospital—you can see Lake Michigan and much of the city.
The pastel-coloured invitation to the party showed a rocket, with the iconic Playboy bunny symbol on its side, steaming into the sky. It requested “proper attire.” Several men were dressed up. Jimmy Jellinek, the magazine’s baby-faced editorial director, served drinks from behind the bar in a white suit and black t-shirt. Most of the women wore sweaters and jeans. There were no bunnies. No one was naked.
Conceived as a homage to the 1940s, the Gold Star Sardine Bar, which had been shuttered since 1997, was specially opened for the evening. Looming over the bar was a portrait (framed by pink neon) of the cabaret singer and pianist Bobby Short, who had played there to much acclaim. Hanging diagonally opposite, a monitor looped black and white video clips of the original Playboy Clubs which had opened in 1960 and which closed long ago.
Pungent smoke filled the room, ballooning down the hall and into the building’s foyer. Bottles of Scotch and wine kept appearing on the bar. Right next to me was a large glass bowl filled with red, pink, and aqua-coloured M&Ms with the bunny head on them. The magazine’s reclusive founder Hugh Hefner was not present, but this was no surprise—he traded his hometown of Chicago for the City of Angels over three decades ago and these days he rarely leaves his LA mansion. Still, the party was lively enough, considering the occasion. People kept telling me the stories of how they wound up working for Playboy for decades, which, even at this late date seemed to surprise them. Or they ruminated on the sad state of print media in Chicago.