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A formerly glamorous downtown restaurant may finally get a resurrection
In the 1960s and ’70s, Maxim’s was a place to step out in the Gold Coast, where you could show off your elegant bearing and fine attire with the chance of dining near Liza Minnelli or Audrey Hepburn. It’s been gone for so long that it’s largely forgotten, but now there’s potential for a Maxim’s comeback, or something like it.
The old restaurant space in the basement of the 1300 N. Astor condo tower is owned by the city of Chicago. Deciding that holding it isn’t a core governmental function, City Hall has put it up for sale. Asking price: $1.36 million. Offers were due March 26.
Hugh Murphy, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., marketed the 8,000 square feet. He said he took many restaurant operators through it in recent weeks and that they were pleasantly surprised by the condition of the richly appointed interior. Since it closed as a restaurant in 1986, the space has been booked only for special events. (Don’t confuse it with the present-day Maxim’s, a Loop stopover for hot lunches but not haute cuisine.)
The Department of Housing and Economic Development is handling the sale. Spokesman Peter Strazzabosco declined to talk about who made offers and what their plans are. Any deal would have to go through the City Council.
There are some sensitivities here. One is that the city is selling a gift. The other is that the gift came from heirs of architect Bertrand Goldberg, who designed Astor Tower and whose wife, Nancy, ran Maxim’s for years. It was modeled after Maxim’s de Paris.
Both Goldbergs died in the late 1990s; the family donated the restaurant to the city in 2000. He was one of Chicago’s most famous architects and the city has bowed to plans to tear down one of his buildings in Streeterville, a move some think reflects little concern for his legacy.
All of which has made Geoff Goldberg, the architect’s son, a little melancholy. “Sometimes I feel like, ‘Wow, what did we do wrong?’” he said. But he added that while he gets the city’s decision to sell Maxim’s, he hopes the buyer will respect the site’s history.
“We made a tough decision when we gave it to the city and we knew its future wasn’t guaranteed,” Goldberg said. “We just hoped it would be operated in the public interest.”
Strazzabosco said terms of the gift carried no obligation to the city to hold it forever. He said the site will be better served by someone who can return it to everyday use.
Retail broker Fred Lev said the site might command $900,000 in a sale. “It’s a great location, but it has a lot of risk. It would have to be a destination restaurant,” he said.
It’s next door to the Pump Room and the Public Chicago hotel, owned by New York developer Ian Schrager. I tried to gauge his interest in Maxim’s, but got no response Tuesday.
Above: Nancy Goldberg (left) entertains guests at her Maxim’s restaurant on the Gold Coast during an October 1970 party celebrating the opening of the show “Pleasure of His Company” at the old Drury Lane Theatre. Actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is at right. Photo from the Sun-Times archives