NEAR WEST SIDE — For 75 years, the Palace Grill has stood as a landmark on Madison Street as the neighborhood around it endured change after change.
The restaurant’s longevity is attributed to owner George Lemperis, who has been at the helm of the family business for 35 of its 75 years.
To mark the anniversary, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) on Saturday night presented Lemperis with an honorary Chicago street sign in front of the Palace Grill at 1408 W. Madison St. A crowd blocked traffic at the corner of Madison and Loomis for 20 minutes while Burnett spoke.
“This is one of the places in the neighborhood that everyone feels comfortable coming to. From the rich to the poor, black, white, whatever the case may be. From big, powerful politicians to sports stars to the guys who used to hang out on the street,” Burnett said. “Everyone feels comfortable coming to the Palace Grill because George makes everyone feel at home.”
The Palace Grill has survived even as the neighborhood went into decline and eventually gentrified.
“In the good times and the bad times, the Palace Grill was always here,” Burnett said.
The 75th anniversary party drew many of the restaurant’s regular customers. Maureen Thomas has eating at the restaurant every week since she moved to the West Loop in 1999.
“It’s a gathering place. I’ve met a lot of people in the neighborhood here. It’s an icon,” she said.
The Rev. Chris Kerhoulas has been a regular at the Palace for 20 years. A copy of Kerhoulas’ own brown, honorary street sign hangs from the ceiling inside.
“Seventy-five years is incredible,” Kerhoulas said. “It’s well-deserved. If somebody was to be called Mr. Chicago, it’s George Lemperis.”
Lemperis spent the night greeting his long-time friends and customers, and he's already making plans for the centennial anniversary in 2038.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s beyond cool. It’s an honor. I’m humbled,” he said. “What can I say? I’m speechless.”