Having just returned from Hyde Park, I am charged with the unenviable task of decrying the current condition of the Quadrangle Club. In song. Be patient – this might take a little Weill. (lol — I kill me!!)
The Quadrangle Club is a place that used to exude a tremendous aura from its blunt haunches on 57th Avenue. For students at the University of Chicago it holds a tremendous mystique; one sees Professors, both feared and admired, enter the front door and what happens next is anybody’s guess. One of course assumes that some sort of perverse, Eyes Wide Shut scenario follows, but one can never be sure.
That is, until one gets the rare opportunity to enter the club oneself. For me, this happened when I was but a wee 1st-year college student. I had made the acquaintance of one of Hyde Park’s – and the Club’s – great movers and shakers, a gentleman by the name of Todd Schwebel, and I had quickly ingratiated myself into his Garden Party Society as a hired pianist. This was around 2001 or ’02, and the members of the Club had just reinstated the traditional “Revels” entertainment, to which Mr. Schwebel cordially invited me.
I’ll never forget that first night at the Club. It seemed as if the stale air, a potpourri of damp smoke and Beefeater martinis, had been awaiting my arrival for nearly a century. Old ladies passed by with immobile gray hair and sweetly pungent perfume. Bowties appeared in profusion. It was at that point that I knew my destiny lay at the Quadrangle Club.
I went back many times during my undergraduate years, and as soon as I became a staff member, I joined the club. One quickly finds out that the specialty of the bar is, fittingly enough, an old-fashioned. One also discovers that there really are no rules, no formalities, and no structure to the whole place. It’s just like the song says:
The stools at the bar were damped with rye,
On the dance floor, the grass grew high,
Thro’ the roof, the moon was shining green,
And the music really gave you some return on what you paid.
Hey Joe, play that old song they always played…
And then came 2008, the year in which the University of Chicago assumed control of the club and hired an outside management firm to run the place. And now, utter ruin. To quote Josh Schonwald of the Chicago Chronicle:
The green awning is gone. The landscaping is different. The facility has been deep cleaned, and many of the rooms have been replastered and painted. There is a new menu, with a new kitchen ethos toward fresher, more seasonal offerings. There are new plates, silverware and tablecloths. Even the servers look different; they still dress in black and white, but will wear bistro aprons at lunch and the trademark vests at dinner.
Yes, the Green Awning is gone. What were they THINKING??? The Green Awning made you feel like you were Someplace and Somebody as you walked under it. I mean, tell me if this ain’t class:
[I have a secret theory that the Green Awning was actually stolen as a prank by the Faculty Club of Northwestern University (if they even have one) and that it is to be found hiding somewhere in Evanston.]
I had a long talk with the Membership Director the other day, Poor Girl, and explained to her that without the awning, the club has a very open, inviting entrance, and that that’s exactly the wrong direction for the club.
As for the supposedly new and improved menu, I suppose this must be what they’re talking about:
Ahh yes… finally soup served with the Appropriate Garnish. Not like the old days when it was invariably accompanied by a hyena carcass and earthworms.
The thing is, we all knew this was coming. The writing was on the wall: there was no more room for “the profitless niceties of the home-away-from-home of the prewar gentleman-scholar.” There were hints as early as July ’08, when I was part of the performance now known as “The Last Stand of the Old Q Club”. It was one of my finest cabaret performances, and played to a packed house. There was no Bilbao Song then, but let’s just say, it’s now a sort of unofficial anthem of the place, as far as I’m concerned. As the song says:
Now they’ve cleaned up and made it middle class
With parted hams and iced cream
Very bourgeois, very bourgeois,
Just another place to put your ass.
They’ve cleaned up all the booze and broken glass
On parquet floors, you can’t grow grass
They’ve shut the green moon out because of rain,
And the music makes you cringe when you think of what you pay.
Hey Joe, play that old song they always used to play: