October 14, 2018

Pilgrimage to the Birthplace of the Brownie, Upon Its 125th Anniversary

I love a good old hotel, and I'll always choose to stay and/or eat in one over the latest, hippest, most modern accommodations.

So, while I chose to stay at the Allerton Hotel by Chicago's Magnificent Mile, I was eager to check out the Palmer House—the longest continually operating hotel in the country.

The Palmer House that stands in the Chicago Loop today is actually the third iteration of the hotel—the first having been built across the street in 1871, just 13 days before succumbing to the Great Chicago Fire.

The second (the world's first fireproof hotel) was built in its current location two years later—and hosted "The Greatest Banquet in American History" in 1879, held in honor of Ulysses S. Grant, hosted by Mark Twain, and attended by Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, and even Buffalo Bill.

It was one of the first Chicago hotels to contain passenger elevators, advertised as "a vertical railroad"... well as in-room telephones and incandescent bulbs.

The third iteration, designed by the architectural firm of Holabird and Roche, replaced the second at the same site in 1925, increasing its height from seven to 25 floors.

In celebration of Bertha Honoré Palmer's French heritage and the time she spent in France with the likes of Monet, the Palmer House is decorated in the style and period of the French Empire. The Grecian frescoes on the ceiling of the gilded lobby were created by French painter Louis Pierre Rigal.

The statue of Romeo and Juliet at the entrance dates back to the French Empire, though it wasn't installed at the Palmer House until the 1920s.

By 1945, the Rococo landmark attracted the attention of its next owner, Conrad Hilton—hence it being known since then as The Palmer House Hilton.

But the real significant date in all of the hotel's timeline is the year 1893. The World's Fair (then known as the Columbia Exposition, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival) was in full swing, and Bertha needed a dessert for a group of women who were attending the exposition. She wanted something cakey that could be cut into squares and portable.

And so, the chocolate brownie—with walnuts and apricot glaze—was born.

The hotel still uses the same recipe to serve the iconic brownie in its eateries—including at the Lockwood Restaurant and Bar, where you can get it as part of a marshmallowy ice cream sundae.

Tours of Palmer House are available once monthly and give access to the hotel's archives and museum room, which is otherwise locked. The timing didn't work out for this trip, but if it does for the next, I'll be back.

But this time around, I really just went for the brownie.

Related Post:
Pilgrimage to the Birthplace of the Caesar Salad, Upon Tijuana's 129th Birthday

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