You’d never know it, but this place is legendary among musical-theater buffs–drama mammies, people in the arts, darling. With a touch of queer flair that could jump and do bells (that is, click heels–that’s what bells are in tap). This is where the renowned Punchinello’s piano bar once resided. It was the place to be seen and join in, Chicago’s entertainment mecca. Its heyday was the 70s. It was the favorite layover of the Gabor sisters when they were in town. Pierre, the owner, would debone the chicken for Zsa Zsa’s dog. Dolores Gray, Virginia Mayo, Barry Manilow, Nanette Fabray, Ginger Rogers–you name it, they all came here. This is the place that catapulted Pudgy into the big time. I worked here for a while as a waiter–it was my introduction to Chicago’s nightlife. I remember Margaret Hamilton coming in when she was in town doing A Little Night Music. I worked with her in summer stock doing The Wizard of Oz. I was one of the munchkins–they miked my voice under the bushes. Punchinello’s closed in February ’78 and went out with a bang. The theatrical community was in mourning because it closed its doors abruptly. I never knew why, and I don’t know what happened to Pierre. I stand frozen in time every time I come in here, hoping to get a whiff of the mock turtle soup and cigarette smoke, but I smell cappuccino instead. Sigh.
–David Aaron, videographer/event promoter