In a way, Silver Palm is a compliment to its next door neighbor, the Chicago classic Matchbox, as the Palm offers what Matchbox cannot: space, clean air and a kitchen – all in a unique style. And since both establishments are owned by the same proprietor, they form a combined nightlife-entertainment center for a section of town that can really use it, especially with all the new condos going up. Plus, you can have your dinner in a train car. Who wouldn’t love that? Silver Palm is the creation of David Gevercer, who has been a restaurateur since 1973, when he opened an eatery called “Gare St. Lazare” on Clybourn, which was followed by “Bistro Europa” in Skokie. Gevercer than had a somewhat longer than brief interlude from the restaurant business when he opened the Matchbox in 1995, but now is exhibiting his gastronomic talents again with the launch of Silver Palm.
Not to be confused with Silver Cloud further north in Wicker Park, Silver Palm opened its doors for business in January 2003. The restaurant and bar is named after the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, now operated by Amtrak, which runs from Washington, DC to Miami, Florida. The Silver Palm’s dining room is actually a 1947 Budd dining car, serving in the same capacity as it did on the original train. The dining car was purchased from the Monad Railway Equipment Company in La Mirada, California, and it took 36 months for it to make the trip to Chicago from the West Coast, which is just a tad longer than it takes Amtrak on their normal service today… As reported by Newcity Chicago in their article on January 24, 2005, the concept for the business arose from an employee’s suggestion: “A few Christmases ago, Gevercer and some of his employees were discussing plans for the empty portion of the lot he had purchased in 1994 when one of them said, ‘Hey, why don’t you put a railway car there?’ ‘And I thought, what a great idea!’ Gevercer remembers.” It turns out that the idea was a bit more difficult to make happen as, not only did it take awhile to get the dining car into town, but it was also a challenge for Gevercer to get a permit for using the train car as part of his facility. It was finally approved by the City of Chicago after a little help from the board of appeals (the idea was initially declined by the city). A special contractor was then hired to create the foundation to hold the rails that now hold the dining car, and actual crossing signals were placed out front, just inside the sidewalk café, creating the effect of being at an actual railroad crossing.
The Silver Palm can be found near Goose Island in the River West neighborhood, just south of the northwest corner of Milwaukee, Ogden and Chicago Avenue, and across from the CVS where my wife did her “grocery shopping” upon her arrival to Chicago, having lived just down the street. The two-story, red-brick building now housing Silver Palm was built specifically for it, along with the Silver Palm dining car attached to it. I think this is a significant improvement over the parking lot it used to be for the Matchbox, which was actually larger than the Matchbox itself! Photographs of the Silver Palm being lowered by cranes into its present spot can be found in the bathrooms as well as behind the bar in the Matchbox next door. As you walk up to Silver Palm, you’ll see a tasteful, back-lit metal Silver Palm sign above the entrance. Step through the plate glass door and you’ll find yourself in a small foyer with free postcards and a mechanized elevator lift for wheelchair access, as a short staircase leads up to the second floor.
At the top of the stairs, “No preaching or peddling” instructs a sign on the wall, with “no humping” and “do not flush while at station” signs posted in the restroom. There, you can pull up a high-backed, black vinyl & chrome barstool either at the long wooden bar of a deep red color along the south wall or at one of several closely-packed cocktail tables against the railing. The backbar features yellow beveled lights and the walls are of exposed brick.
To the right of the bar is a small portal leading to the Silver Palm train car, where dinner is served in a smoke-free environment. The car offers two rows of its original, low-slung, four-top tables with gray-padded chairs, separated by a narrow aisle. The red string lights, burgundy velvet curtains and risqué illustrations of women in erotic moments from the 50’s adorn the walls, giving the place a somewhat dark and intimate, slightly debaucherous feel. I recommend the tables near the back of the car on the right side, as the windows there overlook Chicago Avenue, the Silver Palm’s shared sidewalk café with Matchbox and D’Agostino’s across the street.
The kitchen, located in the back of the car, has conjured up a nice menu of railroad-themed items. We had the goat cheese and cranberry appetizer, the slow-cooked baby back ribs (so tender, they fell of the bone) and the surprisingly tasty “Southern Pacific Railways Double Ginger Duckling.” Others suggest the “Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Calamari,” “Louisville & Nashville Onion Rings” with garlic aioli for dipping, and the “Seaboard Airline Railroad Shrimp and Scallop Po’ Boy” with Cajun remoulade. Entrées go for $12-$17, and Silver Palm also has an array of the inevitable sandwiches for $6-$8, including the “smoked meat” sandwich that I plan to have on my next visit – it wasn’t satisfactory to just corn the beef but it was also apparently necessary to smoke it. Poor beef, lucky you. I was also quite pleased to see that the drinks menu was as long as the dinner menu, featuring a surprisingly good selection of European beers and microbrews also offered next door, including Spaten Optimator, Abita Turbo Dog, Chimay, and Dirty Bastard Ale. There is also a large offering of wines, of which several are offered by the glass.
The Silver Palm reminds me of my favorite childhood restaurant, Victoria Station on Roosevelt Road in Lombard where you could eat in an actual red caboose, which I loved immensely. This is where I also became a fan of the London Broil – I haven’t been able to find a good one since [Editor’s note: I finally found one nine months after I originally wrote this at Al Capone’s Hideaway in St. Charles]. After dining at the Red Caboose, you could then catch a magician act at Sally’s Stage, formerly Blue Suede Shoes, which also had a mechanical bull and player pianos mounted high up on the side walls that never failed to mesmerize me.
Silver Palm is a fun place and I recommend it for dinner any day of the week with cocktails at Matchbox afterwards, except on Mondays and Tuesdays when the Silver Palm is closed (though it may be available for private parties, just give them a call at the number on the top of this page). Silver Palm stays open until 2am every night, Wednesdays through Saturdays, and until midnight on Sundays. You may also want to note that they don’t take reservations. Cabs are not plentiful on weekdays so, though I am loathe to suggest it, driving is your best bet if you don’t live close and there’s plenty of street parking. The Blue Line to Chicago Avenue is another option, though not recommended late (after 10pm). Otherwise, early or late on weekends via cab will work. However you get there, you’ll be glad you did. All aboard!