Hugh Hefner’s very first Playboy Club opened in Chicago and may return

Hugh Hefner | Instagram

Videos by Rare

Videos by Rare

The world’s first Playboy Club Downtown opened on Feb. 29, 1960, in Chicago. The premiere featured entertainers Bobby Short, Irwin Corey, Mabel Mercer and Mae Barnes and of course – the iconic Playboy Bunny waitresses serving cigarettes, drinks, and food to guest as well as their founder, Hugh Hefner.

“The original motivation for the Chicago Playboy Club was to have a place to hang out with friends,” Hefner once wrote in an email to DNAinfo Chicago. “My initial concern was how to recreate for club members the fantasy that was reflected in the pages of the magazine. As it turned out, we put it all together and they brought the fantasy with them.”

Senior Advisor and Director of the Playboy company – Richard Rosenzweig, 80 – has been with the company for 58 years and said the food was actually what brought customers in.

“We were known for the sirloin steaks,” he said. “And people loved that the Bunnies were serving them.”

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The club [originally at 116 E. Walton St.] wasn’t too far from the Playboy Mansion at 1340 N. State Pkwy.
The mansion remained open in Chicago until 1986, close to six years after the club had moved to the corner of Clark and Armitage in Lincoln Park. Director of Curatorial Affairs at Chicago History Museum, Joy Bivins, said Playboy and the impact of the club’s founding “on American popular culture in the mid- to late 20th century cannot be overstated, particularly when the club opened in 1960.”

“The magazine was doing exceedingly well at the time and the club helped to extend the vision that Mr. Hefner was trying to establish with his magazine,” said Bivins.

“It was an exciting time, I can tell you,” said Rosenzweig.

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The upscale decor, Bunnies as waitresses and big-name entertainment was the Chicago club’s model – but would later be replicated in Playboy Clubs around the world. Rosenzweig said the entertainers could work at all 52 weeks a year in a “Playboy circuit” if they so desired.

“At the time the first club was put together, there was nothing representative of the good life for people who were young at heart,” Rosenzweig said. “It was very warm, contemporary and a place to be seen and have a great deal of fun. A number of our customers who traveled — for business or personal use — would feel comfortable in the other clubs if they wanted a little touch of home, because that original design was carried throughout all the other clubs.”

The clubs also had a unique sign-in policy, where customers would provide a special key, and, when they were present, their nameplates would appear on a directory up front, Rosenzweig said.

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With that touch of home, the clubs sign-in policy was customers providing a special key – and when they were present, their nameplates would appear on a directory up front, according to Rosenzweig.

“You knew if celebrities or VIPs were in the club, whether Hef was in the club, whether celebrity Bunnies were there or maybe some visiting performer,” said Rosenzweig.

A Steinmetz High School graduate, the club was an extension of Playboy magazine founder – Hugh Hefner – an idea created out of his Hyde Park apartment in 1953. Clubs would open all over the U.S. as well as internationally including Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, England and Canada. Playboy continues to have clubs in India as well as London.

In 2011 – a Playboy Club attempted to move back to Chicago at the John DeKoven mansion at 1150 N. Dearborn St., but the deal didn’t go through. But the Playboy Rosenzweig hasn’t given up yet.

Rosenzweig said “it’s hard to know” whether a club could ever return to our city.

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