We lost a good one last month. A moment of silence, please, for a true Chicago icon: Lawry’s The Prime Rib.
A 46-year staple in the River North-Streeterville neighborhood, Lawry’s sadly shut its doors on Dec. 31, leaving a restaurant-size gaping hole in the city’s fine dining environment.
Lawry’s didn’t just serve the finest prime rib in the Northern Hemisphere — the kind you can cut with a butter knife — but rather touched it up with a world-class baked potato and a you-have-to-taste-it-to-believe-it creamed spinach side, then adorned it all with just the right touch of the restaurant's famous whipped cream horseradish sauce.
Heaven on a nice tablecloth.
I wish I would have known of the closing sooner. I might have camped out at Lawry’s last month, seeing maybe if I ate nine meals in a month, the 10th one would be free. Hey, dreams are free right?
But here’s what really made Lawry’s special, and it is much more than just the mouth-watering meal described above. Lawrence Frank, who opened the first Lawry’s restaurant in California back in 1938 along with brother-in-law Walter Van De Kamp, with his son Richard and grandson Richard Jr. taking over after that, was a true innovator. Always looking for the original and unusual. Never accepting dinner as it was standardly served.
Some examples? How about salad before dinner? Now almost an expected accompaniment, believe it or not, it was almost unheard of back then, soon becoming a tradition at the now famous restaurant and copied by thousands afterwards.
Not just stopping there, they even took the salad to another level with their now famous “spinning salad bowl." Brought out, created, and presented in full living color — right at your table — symbolizing the care and dedication to a unique dining experience the restaurant always had for their customers.
Other creations Lawry’s can take credit for? How about the traditional “doggie bag”? Others may claim they were first in the “let customers bring home uneaten food” category, but it was Lawry’s and Mr. Frank that first debuted the old-school actual bag (not the fancy Styrofoam #5 containers of today) complete with grease and juice stains by the time you got home.
Oh, and restaurant valet service? That “park your car, while you dine” convenience? Yep, you can thank the Frank family for that as well. They were the first to let you pull up, leave your car and have one of their employees park it for you.
They truly made their mark on the dining experience, not just here in Chicago, but throughout the country.
All that and more is why we will miss this famous restaurant. So many great years, so many great meals.
The ending hasn’t totally been written though. It is possible that this could be just a “pause” phase. Lawry’s could still come back, in some fashion, maybe even in a different location. And Lawry's still has locations open in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and Dallas, so the brand is far from dead.
We’ll take that little bit of hope and add some whipped cream horseradish sauce on the side just for good measure.
Special thanks to all those who worked there for so many years: the cooks (known in house as “ the master carvers”), the waiters (they were known as “the brown gowns”), the bus boys, the front desk, the car parkers, the managers- all the restaurant staff. For the great service and wonderful dining experience they gave to so many.
Rest well, our good friend.