This issue’s feature story about the past and present of the Fine Arts Building is, by far, the longest we’ve ever published. It’s divided into chapters, which makes it easier to read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The undertaking came about, as all great stories do, over cocktails. I’d run into Keir Graff a few months back at former Newcity managing editor Frank Sennett’s book-release party for his latest thriller, “Shadow State.” Keir, like Frank, landed in Chicago the old-fashioned way, that is, via Missoula, Montana. (Though not on horseback.) And, like Frank, he earned his Newcity bona fides in the nineties writing about drinking.
Catching up over drinks at Frank’s party, I learned that Keir, who’d left his job as an editor at Booklist to write full-time, had taken an office in the Fine Arts Building, which is a modest walk from Newcity HQ. I suggested we meet up and have a cocktail sometime, and a month or two later, there we were, drinking Perfect Manhattans at the bar in the lobby of the Palmer House.
As you might guess, Keir and I share an appreciation for fine vintage things, like majestic hotels, classic cocktails and historic buildings like the Fine Arts. Eager to bring Keir back into the fold of Newcity contributors, I suggested an in-depth story about the Fine Arts, and cited Joseph Mitchell’s McSorley’s stories from the New Yorker, circa 1940, as inspiration. At least I think that’s how it went down. Cocktails, you know.
And so, a couple of seasons and nearly twenty-five thousand words later, here we are. Keir took the idea that day and delivered a story far more detailed, and far more interesting, than I could have hoped for.
Like so many of my generation, my first and most consistent exposure to the Fine Arts Building was seeing foreign films in its movie theaters. I specifically remember being awed by Jean Renoir’s “French Cancan.” But there was more to come: my then-very-young daughter took ballet lessons in one of the studios, and much later, as a young adult, she waited tables in the restaurant on the main floor. (She has stories, too.)
Speaking of the restaurant, I hope they bring in a great, arts-friendly operation soon. It’s a one-of-a-kind location. Then Keir and I can meet for drinks there and maybe conjure up a story about the Palmer House. Oh, the stories that place holds…
Look for Newcity’s November 2023 print edition at over 300 Chicago-area locations this week or subscribe to the print edition at Newcityshop.com.
IN THIS ISSUE
The Fine Arts Building is ready for its next act
A new poem by Natasha Mijares
And so much more…