The real Playboy Club

Former Bunnies, performers and Hugh Hefner remember the Chicago hangout.

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  • Photograph: Don Bronstein courtesy of Playboy

    Playboy Club exterior

  • Photograph: By Alexas Urba Courtesy of Playboy

    Playboy Building at 919 North Michigan Avenue, with illuminated nine-foot-high letters.

  • Photograph: Pompeo Posar courtesy of Playboy

    The Real Playboy Club

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Playboy

    Chicago bunny Dolly in the Chicago Club's giftshop in 1966

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Playboy

    Bumper-pool Bunny Marika Lukacs (left) shows Dolly (right) how to handle her cues at the Chicago Club's Playmate bar in 1966

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Playboy

    Playmate bar at Chicago Playboy Club in 1963.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Playboy

    Hef with Bunnies in the Chicago mansion's great hall in 1966.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Playboy

    Playmate bar at Chicago Playboy Club in 1963.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Playboy

    Hef with Playboy Bunnies from the original club in Chicago

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Playboy

    Hef with the Chicago Playboy Bunnies

  • Photograph: Stan Malinowski courtesy of Playboy

    Chicago Playboy bunny Cheryl Vincent Holding in 1964.

Photograph: Don Bronstein courtesy of Playboy

Playboy Club exterior

The sexual revolution was conceived, in part, along a ten-block stretch on Chicago’s Near North Side. The self-proclaimed father of the rebellion was Hugh M. Hefner, a Steinmetz High School grad who left a languishing career as an advertising copywriter to start what would become the world’s most famous girlie magazine.


The foundation of Hefner’s movement was Playboy magazine, founded in 1953 and moved into the old Palmolive Building at 919 North Michigan Avenue in 1967. The 37-story Art Deco headquarters was emblazoned with the word playboy in nine-foot-tall letters, while a lighthouse-style beacon atop the building illuminated the night sky.


Within walking distance was Hefner’s home, the 72-room Playboy Mansion at 1340 North State Parkway, complete with an indoor pool featuring a “woo grotto” concealed by a rushing waterfall, a below-ground bar accessible by descending a fireman’s pole with underwater views of Hef’s pool, a game room, a bowling alley and his famous round, rotating bed.


But it was the Playboy Club, at 116 East Walton Street, where the public would come closest to being part of the revolution. Opened on February 29, 1960, the four-story club featured sumptuous steaks, tall cocktails, marquee entertainment and best of all, beautiful women dressed in skimpy “Bunny” outfits.


A key to the club would allow the common man a fleeting taste of the Playboy fantasy, typified by fast cars, sloe gin, cool jazz and hot women. The magazine, club and mansion formed a triumvirate that shattered America’s stuffy sexual mores in the early ’60s.


“The ’60s were an exciting time for me and for Playboy,” Hefner says on the phone from the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. “It was the beginning of so much for America and for Playboy. And it was all happening right there on the Near North Side. That was my kingdom.”


Now, a small piece of that Chicago kingdom may be reclaimed, as plans were just announced for a new Playboy Club slated to open just a few blocks from the site of the original Chicago club in the Gold Coast.


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