A Chicago Holiday Tradition
The Marshall Field & Co. department store (now Macy’s) has always gone big for the holidays, and in 2020, things will continue with the 113th annual Great Tree, the fifty-third annual animated holiday windows, and the forty-two trumpets along State Street. Along with the decor, a visit to their Walnut Room is normally part of a Chicago holiday tradition, but this year with the pandemic, it might be takeout only.
The Walnut Room is the flagship restaurant of what is now Macy’s in downtown Chicago at State and Washington Streets. The building opened in 1907, and the Walnut Room existed from the start, though it was initially named the South Grill Room. Eventually, the restaurant was renamed for its Circassian walnut paneling, though the exact date of the switch is unclear. For decades, hungry shoppers have enjoyed favorites such as millinery clerk Mrs. Hering’s chicken pot pie, which she started serving in an earlier Field’s restaurant in 1890. At the turn of the twentieth century, restaurants and other leisure spaces in high-end department stores became acceptable places for middle and upper-class white women to spend time outside of the home and meet and dine with friends and family. Furthermore, department stores served as “respectable” employment for women, giving them an opportunity to become wage earners, though as the opening chapters of Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie point out, employment was still limited to white women with certain clothes and manners. Still, the growing popularity of the Walnut Room and Marshall Field & Co. allowed a degree of economic freedom for certain women and social freedom for others. The special atmosphere and food have ensured the Walnut Room remains a nostalgic favorite for generations of Chicagoans, especially during the holidays.
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Image: Menu for the Walnut Room at the Marshall Field’s State Street store, Chicago, December 2, 1948. CHM, ICHi-075639, ICHi-075640, ICHi-075641, ICHi-075642; Gift of Target Stores.
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