In recent years, few visitors dined at the Signature Room for its food.
The restaurant, perched on the 95th and 96th floors of Chicago’s former John Hancock Center, drew customers — from wedding parties to awkward homecoming dates — due to its stunning views of the city. Locals knew that the cost-conscious move was to grab a drink at the bar on the 96th floor instead of spending their money on an overpriced steak. A cocktail, while no bargain, costs less than a meal.
Now, after three decades, the Signature Room, a once proud fine dining destination, has abruptly closed after 30 years inside the famous skyscraper at 875 N. Michigan Avenue. Signature Room co-owners Rick Roman and Nick Pyknis announced the shutter on Thursday, September 28 in a message posted at the restaurant. A memo to staff from human resources points toward an impasse with the restaurant’s landlord, according to NBC Chicago. The tower is owned by a Chicago-based real estate venture, Hearn Co. “We are extremely disappointed that new lease terms could not be successful [sic] renegotiated with our landlord and, thus, not allowing us to continue our mission at the place we all love,” the memo reads.
In March 2023, the 26,168-square-foot space that housed the restaurant and its upstairs sister bar, The Signature Lounge, was put up for sale.
The history of the space dates back to 1970 when it was called the 95th Restaurant. It would rebrand to the Signature Room in 1993 — six years after Charlie Trotter opened his influential fine dining restaurant in Lincoln Park — the Signature Room carved a niche as a luxurious retreat with a dress code, solid cocktails, and a menu that played all the steakhouse hits — from Alaskan halibut to New York strips. Even its bathrooms gained notoriety among Chicago diners thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and a remarkable vantage point, especially for a powder room. Readers of Gourmet named the restaurant as one of “America’s Top Tables” from 1997 through 1999. The designation was different from the list the defunct magazine’s staff compiled. A spinoff in Tampa lasted less than a year and closed in 2005.
But as Trotter’s pushed Chicago’s reputation as a culinary city, the Signature Room remained content, living off its reputation and gorgeous views. In the intervening years, the novelty of its sky-high location dimmed with the arrival of alternatives like the much more casual Skydeck Restaurant inside Willis Tower.
This is where things get especially weird: Despite the HR memo, Roman and Pyknis’s company Infusion Management Group recently extended its lease on the restaurant and bar spaces until at least 2031. In a statement to diners, the duo added to the confusion by obliquely teasing future plans: “Cheers to you, our valued guests, and here’s to 30 more years of excellence,” it reads.
An Instagram post that arrived on Thursday just as news of the closing began to spread has only added to the perplexing picture, as it features a doting bride and groom with a caption that prompts engaged couples to consider booking the venue for wedding celebrations. Within hours, confused comments began trickling in as users tried to wrap their heads around media reports.
The shift at The Signature Room marks yet another hit for Michigan Avenue, a Downtown shopping corridor and arguably the epicenter of Chicago’s tourist town. The area has struggled to return to pre-pandemic levels of foot traffic and economic activity, though this past summer saw an optimistic uptick in tourism metrics and hotel tax revenue. It also saw the debut of The Evie, a rare locally-owned restaurant in a swath of the city where chains and out-of-town restaurant groups have outpaced Chicago originals.
With high school HOCO season in full swing, looks like some teens will need to make new plans.