The gilded doors of the self-proclaimed Wonder of the World swayed open on October 26, 1921, to admit an impassioned cue of moviegoers snaking southward on State Street. As each shrugged off the shivering influence of autumnal Chicago, (s)he pressed a paper ticket into the palm of a smartly outfitted usher, then pushed past grinning members of the Balaban-Katz creative team. Next, the excited patron entered the theater’s intoxicating environment, where, feet pressed in place against sweeping scarlet carpets, (s)he marveled at the vestibule’s romantic grandiosity. Marbled plaster pillars ascended four stories toward a detailed, vaulted roof. Refined trimmings lined the mezzanine level borders. Overhead, an opulent crystal chandelier dangled dramatically. Growing acquainted with the vision- itself inspired by the Royal Chapel at Versailles- the theatergoer pressed onward toward the bronze banister dividing the grand staircase, an homage to that of the Paris Opera House. Beginning an ascent similar to the colonnades running parallel on each side, all rose step by step toward a seat on either the mezzanine or balcony, where the heavy draperies donated by nearby department store Marshall-Fields would be pulled back and silent film star Norma Talmadge would justify why The Sign on the Door featured her name in lights.
Although the sign on the door of the Chicago Theater read differently on Saturday, April 27, 2013, its resonance among its excited patrons equaled that of its predecessors ninety-two years prior. The sign read “Diana Krall” this time, and underneath,” The Glad Rag Doll Tour”. The Grammy-Award winning singer, swinging through the City of Big Shoulders before trailing south to Texas, was to perform for a crowd that was no less eager to see her once it shrugged off the chilly April evening, filed through the same historical pavilion doors, and ascended the exact, sweeping staircase toward the mezzanine and balcony. As for the chanteuse herself, perhaps she ascended a familiar escalator later, too, to enter the similarly opulent atmosphere of Magnificent Mile gem Spiaggia, where she had dined before.
Yet, as familiar as Ms. Krall is with the fine-dining landmark, so seasoned Spiaggia manager Chad Bertelsman, whose dedication has just crested the decade mark, is with her; for, the singer and the amiable manager have shared something in the past which she had long forgotten, when she entered through Spiaggia’s gilded doors on one of her first visits.
Saint Louis’ Grand Center, whose beating heart is found at Grand and Washington, reportedly grew into a thriving theater community at the turn of the 20th Century, as performance venues and vaudeville houses sprang to life. Within nine years, three of the avenues’ original theaters were opened, the Odeon, Princess, Victoria, Grand Central, and the Empress. And within a decade, these were followed by a flurry of others that quickly came to life, including the eighty-nine year old Fox Theater, still enthroned pivotally in the midst of Grand Center. Although there is no evidence of the whereabouts of the establishment in which my subject worked at the time, it can be assumed that it existed proximally to these landmarks.
“We often delivered to the different theaters,” Chad continued, playing with the ear of his coffee cup as he did.” Now, I’m not star struck at all anymore. I’ve met everybody. I mean, President Barack Obama has been coming here with Michelle for eight years and knows me by name. It doesn’t faze me a bit. But I remember delivering to Eartha Kitt one time, when she was in her camisole, getting dressed. She said,” Chad purred in homage,” ‘Put it over there, dahling,’ and I was like,’ Not a bad bod for an eighty-year old!
“Anyway, I worked there for four years and absolutely loved it. Because we became a theater after hosting those who’d just left for the theater, I got to hang out with top artists from all over the world. Grammy Award-winning artists! I got to hang out with Diana Krall, who is married to Elvis Costello and now comes into Spiaggia!” Chad hooked his fingers forward triumphantly before continuing. Then, after expressively remembering her first visit and how she failed to recognize him, he pleasantly remembered why he failed to remind her. “She was in front of her new husband, and I didn’t want to say,’ Don’t you remember me? I was sitting with you smoking cigarettes until 4:00 in the morning, and you said,’ Don’t ever tell anyone I smoke!’”
Seeking a bigger venue in which to mature his hospitable talents, Chad moved to Chicago shortly after the encounter, bringing a friend along with him. Then, after two weeks of enjoying the novelty of the new city, he approached the gilded door through which he re-acquainted himself with not only the songstress whose sign on the door later read “The Glad Rag Doll Tour”, but a host of others as well. There he has remained to this day, kindly inviting in all who ascend the escalator to the mezzanine-level restaurant, to relax in its inspired environs and peer out at the wondrous flow of Chicago’s Great Lake.