Posted January 29, 2012 by JOHN CHUCKMAN


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  1. This building still stands there, and I think it’s condos now. The last commercial establishment there was (I believe) a place called Swiss Chalet, a wine and cheese store. The Hotel Maryland had that “rumored to be owned by the mob” kind of mystique. In the 1950’s and 60’s, I was told, it had a very popular night club that featured big stars from the music scene. Maybe other venues were just jealous?

    I remember this building from the 1970’s. If this is gets too long and boring, or is inappropriate for your blog, please go ahead and delete it (or tell me and I will – however that stuff works).

    There was an infamous death at the Maryland when I was in high school, so sometime between 1973 and 1977. The story was: a Playboy Bunny (Bobbie Arnstien?) from one of the Playboy Clubs was sequestered there by FBI agents, so that she could testify and expose the large drug empire that Hugh Hefner allegedly (but not evidentially, nor actually) was building here in Chicago. Before she was scheduled to appear in court, however, she died in her room from an apparent suicide. I will leave that cause of death to your imagination.

    The words “apparent suicide” aren’t too uncommon to a Trib or Sun-Times reader here. But, Hef putting out a hit on one of his bunnies? Money is money, but I don’t know. I’m thinking of Kendra and Holly and the other one. And Barbi Benton? Remember she and Hef waving from that jet? No, no, I just can’t see Hef pushing the bills under the cocktail table and murmuring, “Do it!”

    And the Feds? Well, I don’t know about them either. It’s inconceivable that the FBI would effect anything so mob-like, which should end any discussion right there. But let’s discuss anyway. Even after they were able to see (and how couldn’t they see?) that Ms. (then Miss) Arnstien was the large kangaroo in the middle of the courtroom they’d missed, or even when it dawned on them that no one in his right mind would start a drug empire from one of the most conservative cities on earth; a city where the temperature fluctuates between +32 and -20 degrees for six months, hovers around +95 degrees for two other months, and is completely immobilized by road work and toll booth construction the rest of the year- not exactly party central, but more like party fly-over – no, no, no. Even after they saw themselves for the pawns they’d been played for. No, can’t see it either.

    So I guess it was an apparent suicide.

    An interesting side note to all of that is: Chicago actually had two (yes 2!) playboy clubs then, and those were in addition to the Playboy Hotel! One club was the original mansion on North State Parkway near the Cardinal’s residence. It’s now a dorm for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The other club was at Clark and Armitage, across the street from the Park West Theatre. I think it’s now just the entrance area / lobby of an apartment building there; it was built on reclaimed land that had been the northern terminus of Ogden Avenue.

    The Playboy Hotel is now the Knickerbocker Hotel (the poor man’s Drake Hotel) on East Walton Place. It was located in what became the Playboy Building until the company moved to the former Furniture Mart at 666 (later changed to 670) N. Lake Shore Drive in the 1980’s. Before it was the Playboy Building, many would recognize pictures of it as the Palmolive Building. Driving south on the Outer Drive, it is the building behind the Drake Hotel, and it has the “Lindbergh Beacon” on the top. I don’t know if it has a name on it anymore, but when the large letters spelling Palmolive were replaced with the latrge letters spelling Playboy, my parents were horrified. And I mean HORRIFIED! because we are Roman Catholic.

    Just a couple more tidbits that are personal. In the late 1970’s, the first floor lounge at the Maryland was called Alfie’s, and it was the first gay bar (I am gay) I ever went to. I think I was 17 years old at the time, so probably in 1976 or 1977. That would, of course, be illegal now. At that time though, I think it would have been noteworthy if a 17 year-old could NOT get into a bar. Anyway, it was a nice place as I recall. I will admit that any gay bar would have been a very friendly place for me, as I was what was then referred to as “chicken.”
    There were other gay bars nearby then. TJ’s on Oak, Kitty Shean’s, and, a little further away, The Gold Coast, The Baton, New Flight, and Dugan’s Bistro (The be-all end-all of gay chicago’s disco scene), but those are another story or picture.
    Thanks for the memory jog.
    Jim O’Donnell

    • Hi Jim,

      You’ve made some interesting observations, although generally I don’t favor tales from the dark side of Chicago in this and other blogs – there are just so many.

      Chicago was not just “hog butcher to the world,” it was a place with a great deal of brutality and corruption.

      But it was also grand and imaginative and one of the best places in the country for working people to make their living.

      John Chuckman


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