Christmas classic “Sleigh Ride” owes its inspiration to the sauna-like glare of the August sun of 1946. Perhaps seeking the equivalent of the newly invented air conditioning wall unit, American composer Leroy Anderson collected his coolest thoughts that summer, envisioning a man so enticed by a prairie laden with fresh snow that he asks a loved one to join him for an outdoor adventure. To begin his illustration, the thirty-eight year old son of Swedish immigrants looked to a set of handheld jingle bells, then continued to draw by boldly snapping the reins on a team of percussive tricks. Over the course of the two-and-a-half minute ride, he utilized xylophones, clapboards, and woodblocks, each taking the driver’s seat alternately, peaking above the broad shoulders of a bossy blend of brass and strings, until the carol reached its throatiest point. Then the horse, fatigued from the breadth of the snowy spin, arrestingly rears its forelegs, a final flair made possible by none other than the principal cornet player. And although these elements would not be fully integrated until February, 1948, it is due to the sultry character of those August afternoons that a ticket to Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” can still be pressed into chilly palms annually.
“Most good things happen with time,” Black Flag lead singer Greg Ginn once said, adding, “especially music, which needs time to breathe and to find its own way.” This is true, of course. Yet, it not only holds value for those involved in music, but to those who create a place where life’s music can evolve. It is pertinent to neighborhoods where children are newly introduced to others of the same age. It applies to their friendships as the roots dig deeper. Last, it is vital to those who survive with their roots still intact, strengthened by thickened stalks and branches that reach for the sun, that they value their own connections when blending into a harmonious business unit.
“The first job I had in a restaurant was in high school,” said Danny Miller, who opened Rosebud on Taylor with high school buddy Alex Dana in 1975.” I worked at hot dog stand with friends of mine, Ralph DiPinno, Mr. Alex Dana [who owns Rosebud], and Tony Calabrese. We were all kids, maybe seventeen years old, and we all grew up on a corner of the street on Grand Avenue. It was an Italian neighborhood that was further north.”
The neighborhood, which spread from the Chicago River to an area slightly beyond North California Avenue, was mainly populated by southern Italians and Sicilians, and “was to Italians what Milwaukee Avenue was to Poles and Lincoln to the Germans.” Its southern border was Chicago Avenue.
“Alex just got in the restaurant business. I don’t want to say it was an accident, [but] the person who owned this building approached Mr. Dana thirty-five years ago and asked if he was interested in opening up a restaurant. And that’s how The Rosebud became The Rosebud. It used to be called Binleder’s before.
“Now,” Danny continued, “people always ask, ‘Where did you get the name, ‘Rosebud’?’ Well, Mr. Dana named The Rosebud after the sled in the movie, Citizen Kane, [a film] about a famous man [who] had a sled when he was a kid, and that was the name of the sled. That’s how the name came about. We actually went to the castle in California, and this guy tried to sell us the sled. We were going to buy it and put it up on the wall, but we could make it for twenty bucks, since it was only a piece of wood with the work ‘Rosebud’ on it.”
Thus began the tale of the Taylor Street mainstay that marks its fortieth birthday within two years. Since opening its doors, it has hosted generations of performers ranging from classic crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett (with whom Mr. Dana has a friendship) to sports figures such as Mike Tyson. Joe Pesce has twirled pasta made in the Italian-inspired kitchen, former mayor Richard Daley has entertained elite politicos in its elegant environs, and historical figures like Robert Kennedy have sat on its barstools.
“I can’t think of all of the people who have been here!” Danny exclaimed.
Partner Alex Dana still continues to reach into other Chicago neighborhoods, now that Rosebud on Taylor is in full bloom. To date, the Rosebud moniker is employed on a downtown steakhouse, a trattoria, and Streeterville favorite Carmine’s, in addition to Rosebud’s suburban branches. Each stands as a testimony to Danny’s longstanding relationship with Mr. Dana and what grew from the combination of their entrepreneurial spirits.
“But we’re at the end of our career,” Danny remarked.” I’m sixty-eight and the owner is sixty-six. His son is in his thirties, though, and he might want to take over.”
Taking a moment to reflect on gentrification’s effect on Taylor Street, which has evolved from an ethnically proud, working class neighborhood to an area populated by BMW-owning Yuppies, Rosebud partner Danny Miller proffered a simple statement to explain the wild success of the establishment whose name was inspired by the legendary sled.
“We have been very, very lucky,” he smiles, exhaling agreeably.
Considering that twelve years is the average lifespan of most successful restaurants, he and Mr. Dana have truly been lucky. They have survived as many of the hospitality industry’s ups and downs as sled-riding children experience while repetitively towing their toys uphill during an early snowfall. Given the virtues of time and maturation, they have successfully created a place for people to celebrate the music of life also. And to consider those who have walked through the front door over their forty-year tenure, it can be said that they capably managed the ups and downs of business, remained a vital part of the community, and continue to take all who climb onto their seats on a wonderful Sleigh Ride.