The Chase Park Plaza
In 1921, a parcel of land at the corner of Lindell and Kingshighway was purchased by a group of businessmen,
headed by attorney Chase Ulman. They planned to build a
hotel-apartment complex on the property to take advantage of those
individuals wishing to stay or dwell in the Central
West End. In the short span of nine months, the Hotel Chase and
Chase Apartments were constructed.
The Hotel Chase had its public opening on September 29, 1922; Paul Whiteman’s orchestra came from New York to play at a formal dinner dance. The nine-story hotel contained 500 guest rooms and multiple dining areas, including the Palm Room, which was open for the winter season, and the Roof Garden, open for the summer season.
The Palm Room was located directly behind the ground floor main lounge and could seat 1000 dinner guests. There was a dance floor, with nightly dancing to a featured orchestra.
The Palm Room got off to an inauspicious start.
On New Year’s Eve 1922, the hottest draw was the swank new Hotel
Chase. Partiers jammed its spacious Palm Room for dinner, dancing
and midnight noisemaking. However, as it was the second New Year’s
Eve under Prohibition, there was no alcohol. At each table, a card
warned: "Patrons are earnestly requested not to violate the law."
But by 1922, any worthy reveler knew how to slip a flask into a
When the weather
turned warm, the Palm Room closed and activities moved to the Roof
Garden, with a capacity for 1000 guests.
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Sam Koplar was born on July 4, 1888 in a small house at the corner of Broadway and Tyler in St. Louis. He was forced to drop out of college after one year; his family could not afford the tuition. After unsuccessfully trying to find work washing cars for auto dealers, he stumbled into the construction business, where he made his fortune.
In 1929, Koplar acquired a lot near the corner of Lindell and Kingshighway, adjacent to the Hotel Chase, where he would build a hotel modeled after the Savoy Plaza in New York City, with oversized windows, velvet draperies and divans in the lobby, uniformed bellhops, and fine dining. He named his hotel the "Park Plaza" – "Plaza" for the Savoy Plaza and "Park" for Forest Park.
Koplar lost the 28-story building to foreclosure
during the Depression, but he reacquired the Park Plaza in 1944, and
by 1946 he had acquired majority control of the Chase Hotel.
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Plaza did indeed offer fine dining, as well as more casual
venues. The Park Plaza drug store, with a full soda fountain, made
incomparable malts and milkshakes, as well as tasty tuna salad
sandwiches. The Park Plaza Grill served breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There was dining and dancing in the Park
Plaza's chic Merry-Go-Round lounge, which featured an authentic
There was more sophisticated entertainment and fine dining in the Crystal Terrace, an upscale dining room in the Park Plaza's lower level. The menu included "paper-thin slices of smoked Nova Scotia salmon . . . roast duck in fragrant wine sauce . . . Caesar salad with crisp croutons in fresh imported oils . . . and flaming cherries jubilee or crêpes Suzette."
On March 24, 1951, the Crystal Terrace became the Gourmet Room.
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On December 5, 1940, the Chase Hotel opened its new Starlight Roof and Zodiac Cocktail Lounge, a glass-enclosed supper room and bar, which replaced the open-air Roof Garden. The Starlight Roof, with a capacity for 1100 people, became the hotel's regular dining room, with dancing and entertainment.
The new Zodiac Lounge was lavishly designed and
decorated, with a stunning circular bar made of glass, 62 feet in
circumference. The 12 signs of the Zodiac had been sandblasted into
its surface, and in the center, a silver figure of a girl pointed to the
sky. At the flick of a switch, a dome above
the silver figure slid back, revealing the star-studded sky.
There were other dining venues at the Chase, including the Fiesta Grille, which specialized in cheese blintzes, and the Steeplechase Room, where Harry Fender broadcast live on KMOX radio from 1954 until the mid 1970s.
"Harold (Sam Koplar's son) wanted me to do the show from the Zodiac Room upstairs, where all the action was," said Fender. "I told Harold, 'I want to go where the business ain't,' so I chose the Steeplechase. 'You're sticking your neck out,' he said. Harold was going to close the Steeplechase.
"But people just jammed in the place to see and hear all these great people. And they could do it for the price of a bottle of Budweiser."
For 20 years, Fender entertained late-night
radio listeners with a veritable who's who of show business – Frank
Sinatra, Sophie Tucker, Jimmy Durante, Nat King Cole, Jack Benny,
Bob Hope, Mary Martin, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, Rodgers and
Hammerstein and on and on.
The premier venue at the Chase was the first
floor Chase Club, which began operation in the early years of the
hotel. Initially, it was open from September until the following
summer, when dining and dancing moved to an open-air terrace at the
Meadowbrook Country Club. In the mid 1930s, when Sam Koplar became
manager of the Chase, he began bringing in shows to the Chase Club
Early on, the Chase Club featured a large dance
floor, surrounded by tables, where fine food was served. On a 1941 menu, blue-point oysters were 50 cents and a whole
broiled Maine lobster, with julienne potatoes, was $2.50.
The real attraction at the Chase Club was the entertainment. Harold Koplar was responsible for finding and booking acts, and he had a knack for predicting who would be a big hit. In the mid 1940s, he saw a hilarious but little known comedy team, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and quickly signed them.
As the Chase Club's popularity grew, Koplar redecorated it along the lines of the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. To improve visibility, he put in terraced seating, with tables on each tier. He also created a movable dance floor, that rose when a show started and lowered when it ended.
By the 1950s, the
Chase Club had a national reputation; it was known as one of the
leading nightclubs in America. St. Louisans were drawn to a steady
lineup of leading performers, including the Andrew Sisters, Bobby
Darin, Maurice Chevalier, Phyllis Diller, Jimmy Durante, Robert
Goulet, Shecky Green, Merv Griffin, Florence Henderson, Arthur
Godfrey, Billie Holliday, Lena Horne, the Kingston Trio, Eydie Gorme
and Steve Lawrence, Peggy Lee, Guy Lombardo, Cyd Charisse, Jeanette
MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Artie Shaw, Danny Thomas and Rudy Vallee.
By the early 1960s, top entertainers became more difficult to attract, due to high paying national television shows and the booming Las Vegas nightclub industry. In 1962, with the continuing shortage of affordable acts, Harold Koplar shuttered the Chase Club for good.
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The following article appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 30, 1960.
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The Hunt Room was styled after a gracious
dining room in old Williamsburg, with a high ceiling and bleached
pine walls. There were displays of antiques used during the
Williamsburg period, including hand-blown glass water carriers, a
tea canister from China, hunting horns, pictures taken from
magazines published in that period and boots. Twin chandeliers of
Waterford crystal hung at each end of the dining room.
The first Sunday Brunch in St. Louis was served
in The Chase Park Plaza's Hunt Room.
The popular Tack Room was added at the north end of the Chase lobby. The restaurant was modeled after a typical Virginia tack and trophy room, most of which were styled in the manner of English architect Sir Christopher Wren. A tack or trophy room was an area next to the stable where gentlemen met after a hunt to rest and talk about the events of the day.
The booth separators were patterned after English horse stall dividers. The antique brick walls, curved beams and hand-pegged oak floor reflected the sturdy seventeenth century style. The lighting fixtures were antique railway carriage lamps purchase at the Paris Flea Market, ancient brass lanterns and iron coach lanterns, and large brass lanterns that were once street lights from the town of Dundee, Scotland.
Blending with the room's antiquity was modern food equipment, color-cued upholstered banquettes and Formica table tops.
The twenty-four hour "coffee shop" served an array of good food at reasonable prices, and offered table, booth and counter service. It was the place to see celebrities and business bigwigs while you enjoyed a chili-cheeseburger.
In December of 1972, Harold Koplar opened The Sea Chase at the site of the shuttered Chase Club on the lobby level. He spared no expense to make the restaurant look authentic. There were various sea-oriented wall hangings, wrought iron gates and railings, and a ten-foot model of the Sea Witch, an ocean tugboat used in the film "The Wreck of the Mary Deare." While the Sea Chase lasted over a decade, it never received favorable reviews.
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On Mach 28, 1962, Harold Koplar opened a new restaurant on the Park Plaza side, called it "The Tenderloin Room," and put Hack Ulrich in charge.
Henry "Hack" Ulrich was a St. Louis legend. He started working at the Chase as a busboy in 1936, right out of high school. He was the maître d' at the Chase Club until it closed in 1961. When Koplar planned a new dining room for the hotel, there was never any doubt who would be its maître d'.
If you needed a table, you called Hack. He knew
the name of every individual who came once to the Tenderloin Room,
and if they came twice, as most did, he knew the names of their
family members, banker and barber. In 1982, the restaurant was renamed "Hack's
Tenderloin Room" to commemorate his many years of service to the
Chase Hotel and his standing as a St. Louis institution.
The Tenderloin Room was elegant and
old-fashioned, with carved panels and woodwork that Koplar had bought from a demolished mansion
on Vandeventer Place. On the left side of the room was a specially
built charcoal grill, with an outsized metal ventilating hood, where
food was cooked and then served within seconds. "We bought nothing
but the best prime meats, and it was aged good, and everything made
to order," said Ulrich. "We took it off that grill and put it on a
plate and gave it to you. Everything was just perfect, hot."
While the Tenderloin Room offered such popular entrées as crabmeat salad, their
specialty was beef – particularly Hack’s trademark steak with a
piquant "Pepperloin" sauce. For dessert, many chose the sumptuously
rich cheesecake, conjured up by the Chase’s pastry department under
chef Alfred Fink. "You know, we made the greatest cheesecake in the
world, unbelievable," said Ulrich. "If I gave you a piece of that
cheesecake, I’d pay you if you could eat it in one sitting."
In 1968, the Tenderloin Room
was almost totally destroyed by fire. Undaunted, Hack and
his staff moved the entire operation to the lower level of the Park
Plaza and opened the same night of the fire, ready for business as
usual. When the Tenderloin Room reopened in 1970, it was like
stepping backward into time, only better; the room changed only
slightly from the original design.
In the spring of 1981, the Koplars sold the Chase Park Plaza to a group of St. Louis and Chicago investors, who planned to renovate and revitalize the Chase Hotel and the Park Plaza, which had been converted to apartments some years earlier.
But renovation did not revitalize the Chase; on
September 22, 1989, the hotel closed its doors. The hotel’s
management said they could not compete with the boom in hotel
development in downtown and Clayton.
Officials emphasized the closing of the Chase would not affect the
adjoining Park Plaza Apartments or the Tenderloin Room restaurant on
its ground floor.
On that last evening, Hack Ulrich sat in one of the Tenderloin Room's burgundy wing-backed chairs, sipping coffee. "I think it's a sin for a beautiful room like this to close," said Ulrich, who communicated as much with his hands as with his quick speech.
Glancing at a sheet of paper, Ulrich read off names of presidents, actors and athletes who frequented the Tenderloin Room. "We had practically every celebrity that ever was," he said. "It's a shame to close this room . . . but all things come to an end, I guess."
* * * * *
In 1993, the Karagiannis family, who owned Spiro's restaurant in Chesterfield, reopened the Tenderloin Room as Spiro's Tenderloin Room. The restaurant got a shot in the arm when the Chase Hotel reopened in 1999.
The Karagiannis managed Tenderloin Room is still in business today, with Pepperloin steak and cheesecake on their menu. However, Hack's Hellenic salad has been replaced by a Greek salad, it's not uncommon to find diners in shorts and the restaurant is no longer the place to see and be seen. Hack's tables have been lost forever.
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