The Purple Palace

Editor’s Note: though we are not sure when it happened, the entire Purple Palace hotel has gone belly-up and weeds now grow in the volleyball court. Sad. Who will re-open this North Shore treasure?

“Close to everything… Far from ordinary”

When you think about good bars in the suburbs, you might think about the Alumni Club in Schaumburg, Durty Nellie’s in Palatine or Tommy Nevin’s in Evanston. You probably wouldn’t think of the Radisson Hotel Lincolnwood, known also as “The Purple Palace.” I know I never would have. However, “The Palace,” as it is know to locals, turns out to easily be the best after-work bar in the area. It is also one of the finest places to stay in all of the northwest suburbs of Chicago where hotel guests can have either have drinks and not have to worry about driving back to their room at the Holiday Inn. They also host volleyball leagues in summer and serve up a mean Sunday brunch.

The Purple Palace is located at the intersection of Lincoln and Touhy Avenues, less than a mile from the Edens Expressway (I-94) and close to the Old Orchard Mall on Dempster and the Lincolnwood Mall on McCormick. The hotel was originally named the Purple Palace for its eye-catching, purple-painted brick façade, trimmed in white, that is somehow able to straddle the thin line between elegant and garish. Whatever your opinion, the Palace is the crown jewel of the Skokie/Lincolnwood area, even though the pine confines of nearby L. Woods Tap is more than welcoming. The beauty of the Purple Palace is that it contains not one but two good bars, two restaurants, and even a volleyball court making it one of the most unique holdings of the international Radisson chain.

The two bars consist of “SeaGars – a Cigar and Martini Bar” and “The Pressbox.” The restaurant are known as “Etc.” and “T.J.’s Bar & Grill.” Upon my first visit, I noticed that the red awning outside leading to the entrance to the “entertainment facilities” list the names of all four places, but could not actually find T.J.’s. I later discovered that T.J.’s is the Palace’s upscale restaurant, also used for “live entertainment and dancing” nightly and Sunday brunch. I am not sure what the live entertainment and dancing entails (and am rather skeptical of it), but I do know that brunch includes 12 entrees, shrimp, pastries, made-to-order omelets, a pasta station, multiple carving stations and unlimited champagne and a live pianist for $19.95.

Upon entering the Palace through plate glass doors, Etc. is located on your right. From the outside, Etc. gives the avid bar-goer false hope with its allure of dozens of neon beer signs in the window and the regulation-size, outdoor sand volleyball court in the patio area. Upon entering Etc., you will find that it is instead a polished, one-size smaller version of Old Country Buffet. Etc. is the place for regular food at the Purple Palace, as SeaGars and the Pressbox do not offer anything beyond bar mix, popcorn and a few appetizers, and also serves as the source for room service for hotel guests. Locals: the outdoor volleyball court offers league play from May through September. For more information call (847) 677-1234 and ask for the Outdoor Volleyball League coordinator.

Next door to Etc. is the Pressbox. To find it, turn to your left upon entering the Palace through the glass doors, and walk down the hallway to your right. Where the hallway ends is a T-junction. To the right is the Pressbox and to the left is Sea-Gars. As you may have guessed, the Pressbox is the Purple Palace sports bar with not only several televisions but also an impressive array of games. The room with its bunched-up gray carpet holds three pool tables, an electronic slot machine, an air hockey table, a Golden Tee 2001 machine with big screen, and an electronic dartboard. Upon my first visit, a friend of mine and I had a go on all of the above but the slots – we had to leave something to do for our next visit.

The pool tables are located in front of the east wall in the Pressbox, with its bright red-painted wood paneling, turquoise banquette, and three small wooden tables. A big screen projector hangs from a tan drop ceiling with its wavy designs. Pictures hang from the dark blue stucco wall, including an autographed photograph of Erin Gray from Buck Rodgers fame – oh, daddy,she looks nice in her shiny metallic green, closely-fitting space/track suit. There is also a picture of David Carradine from his Kung Fu days, and a framed newspaper clipping of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier discussing their upcoming “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match. The pool cues hang on a rack next to a plastic case with an autographed Ryne Sandberg baseball bat, Ernie Banks baseball, and Gale Sayers football. It was in this area of the bar that I spotted a man in a suit roll a keg into the back room. You don’t see that everyday.

A lone cocktail table with purple-padded, high-backed chairs, stands opposite the second of two projected big screen TVs, as well as the electronic dartboard, Golden Tee, and “Auto Photo” photo booth along the north wall. To the left of the Blitz ’99 arcade football game, stands the walkup cooler with four trophies atop it, next to the bar at the front. A yellow triangular ceiling looms over the bar and is matched by the shelves of booze below it. Most of the Pressbox’s seating can be found in several, half-moon turquoise booths along the west wall. Here, several groups of after work crowds can be found loudly commiserating if they’re not at the nearby Mark IV Lounge on Western. For sports fans, after work crowds and guests looking for a bit of adult amusement, this is the place to be.

If the Pressbox isn’t your bag, or if you find yourself in the mood for a cocktail, head over to SeaGars, directly across from the Pressbox. The “Sea” in SeaGars presumably comes from the long fishtank, aglow in purple, next to several glowing glass blocks that divide the south end of the bar from the hallway. A long, leather-upholstered couch and two sitting chairs surround a worn wooden coffee table in front of the fishtank. From this vantage point, you can take in an excellent view of the room and its interesting patrons – a mix of locals and those doing business in the northwest suburbs.

Many comfortable leather sitting chairs can also be found in SeaGars, around a series of small coffee tables. A typewriter is located on an end table in front of the north wall, should any journalistic urges strike you. The rest of the room is adorned with a nicely carpeted floor, red drapes at the top of the stairs leading down to the Pressbox, and ceiling fans hanging from a white stucco ceiling. A map of Chicago hangs on the wood-paneled eastern wall, bookended by a Hornsby’s rhinoceros head (fake) and a stuffed deer head (real). Upside-down glasses hang from polished brass fixtures above the wooden bar on the west side of the room. The bar is lined with turquoise padding and maroon drapes decorate the shelves stocked with whatever drink you fancy. The bar offers “world class” cigars, fine wines, specialty martinis, single-malt and blended Scotches, a few draft beers, and appetizers.

While having more of an atmosphere of a university club than a sports bar like the Pressbox, there are a few televisions located throughout the room including a big screen in the northeast corner. I remember this television as it was where I watched George W. Bush, give his first State of the Union address following the September 11th atrocities in which he declared the Afghanistan Taliban regime as an enemy of the state. American flags where posted around the bar, and the whole place, even the Pressbox, was silent through the entire speech.

The bathrooms are located in-between Sea Gars and Etc. Inside (at least in the men’s bathroom), you’ll find swirly blue wallpaper, terrazzo tile, and a framed Abe Lincoln collage. Pretty nice for a can.

I have not personally stayed in the hotel, but I would if I were visiting the North Shore of Chicago. The Palace is rated three stars by AAA and Mobile, and is the preferred hotel by Northwestern University. There are 293 rooms on seven floors, 18,000 square feet of banquet space, and a gift shop to boot. The Palace also boasts an indoor and outdoor pool, sauna, jacuzzi, suites and a health club. Rates range from $139 to $169 per night. O’Hare airport is only eight miles west, and the Purple Palace runs a hotel shuttle there daily for $12.

In addition to SeaGars and the Pressbox, the Purple Palace is also notable as the place where Michael Jordan stayed for his first training camp with the Chicago Bulls. Not exactly “rolling out the red carpet,” but what do you expect from Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf? Jordan summed up his stay by saying, “I never saw a purple building before.” This was back when the Palace was owned by Hyatt, and was the headquarters for Bulls coaches, veterans and rookies alike during training camp prior to their world championship years.

The Palace is a great place for visitors to the Chicagoland area, for locals as an after-work bar and for volleyball, and for everyone with its upscale brunch on Sundays. And with SeaGars, the Pressbox, Etc. and T.J.’s, there’s definitely something for everyone. Hurrah!