Signature Room at the 95th in former Hancock Center closes permanently
CHICAGO (CBS) — The decades-long story of an iconic Chicago restaurant ended suddenly Thursday with a note on the door.
The iconic Signature Room at the 95th restaurant near the top of the former John Hancock Center abruptly closed for good on Thursday, citing “severe economic hardship.”
The closing was announced by owners Rick Roman and Nick Pyknis on a sign posted on the door near the elevators to the restaurant on the 95th and 96th floors at 875 N. Michigan Av.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the permanent closing of our beloved Signature Room at the 95th effective Thursday, September 28, 2023,” the note stated. “For over 30 years, we have had the privilege and honor of serving Chicagoans and visitors from all over the world. Unfortunately, after the closure of our city and restaurant due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been faced with severe economic hardship and the challenges have been greater than anticipated. From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank you for your support over the years.”
A similar message was posted on the restaurant’s social media accounts.
The Signature Room under its current name and incarnation opened in 1993. But there has been a restaurant in the space as long as the John Hancock Center has been open.
The restaurant was formerly known simply as the 95th Restaurant, and dated back to 1970. The Signature Lounge, that famous spot for a cocktail a floor up on the 96th floor, was previously called Images.
From anniversaries and engagements to college graduation night dinners with closest loved ones, there have been countless milestones and memories made at the Signature Room.
CBS 2’s Noel Brennan spoke to one customer who never expected her first visit to be her last.
“I have to say it was like one of the best moments of my life thus far,” said Grace Peterson.
The view from the 95th floor of Big John is as sweet as the memory for Peterson.
“That whole day was a surprise for me personally,” she said.
Peterson visited the Signature Room just once this past June, but she will remember it for a lifetime.
“The Signature Room has a special spot in my heart,” she said.
Why? Because it was the spot Peterson’s fiancé picked for the big moment – and it was perfect.
“It was a beautiful moment. After the people realized that it happened, like the whole restaurant starts clapping,” Peterson said, “so I thought that that was really cool to have.”
The summer proposal may have been one of the last at the Signature Room.
“I got this direct message saying that they were closed. I had no idea,” Peterson said. “So it kind of made me like really sad.”
Peterson said she enjoyed every aspect of her one experience at the Signature Room.
“All the workers that were part of that establishment made it really special too,” she said. “All these other people that had been coming here for so long like as well, I’m sure that hits hard for them too.”
Peterson has memories to keep – but she’ll miss reliving that moment on the 95th floor.
Ann Marie Miller-Silva also said “yes” 95 floors high at the Hancock in July. The ambience and breathtaking views made it the perfect spot for so many of life’s biggest moments.
“It holds a super-special place in my heart, because that’s the place that we always remember for that moment for our engagement,” Miller-Silva told CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar.
Miller-Silva said the abruptness of the closure was surely a shock to many.
“Those staff members are also left wondering what they are going to do is really shocking,” she said.
Inside the kitchen at the Signature Room is where Stanley Hagerman says he got his first real job in the industry.
“Yeah, I’m saddened by it,” Hagerman said. “You know, like – it’s such an iconic place.”
Hagerman now works in California as a personal chef.
“That’s such a big part of my personal history,” he said. “It helped me in my career, just like being like a launching point.”
While the Signature Room holds sentimental value, an expert says its closure is not terribly significant when it comes to luring national retailers to the Magnificent Mile – where retail vacancy now sits around 30 percent.
“The avenue is going through a tough time right now, but there are some very good things happening with signed leases,” said John Vance, a broker with Stone Real Estate.
Vance tracks occupancy along Michigan Avenue. He points to retailer Aritzia opening at 555 N. Michigan Ave., H&M moving into the former Apple store, and Alo Yoga opening its first Chicago location, as positive signs for business on the strip.
“With it being their first city of Chicago store when they open – and they open well – that will be a sign across the country that you can do business on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and the Mag Mile is coming back,”
As for those who had reservations and plans to make life memories at the Signature Room in the coming weeks, the owners are asking for patience as they navigate what they call an unexpected challenge.
“The abruptness of it,” Miller-Silva said. “We will never get an anniversary dinner there, or maybe take our kids there.”
Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia issued the following statement on the restaurant’s closure:
“The Signature Room at the 95th has been an icon in Chicago’s restaurant community for decades. Their team has created an untold number of moments and celebrations in the lives of Chicagoans and visitors. Thank you to every member of the Signature Room for your generosity and warmth over the years.”
Earlier in the day, the Signature Room had posted on Facebook, encouraging people to book private events at the space overlooking Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, but that post has since been deleted, with an announcement of the closure now topping their Facebook page.
360 CHICAGO, the observatory located a floor below the Signature Room, emphasized that it is staying open. The two businesses are not connected.
360 CHICAGO Managing Director Nichole Benolken released this statement:
“Like many, all of us at 360 CHICAGO were shocked and saddened by the sudden closure of the Signature Room. For 30 years we’ve not only shared our own dedicated elevators with the Signature Room, but they’ve been wonderful neighbors and partners, and their presence in the building will be missed,” said Nichole Benolken, Managing Director, 360 CHICAGO.
“At 360 CHICAGO, just one floor down from the Signature Room, please know that it remains business as usual. Though there was sometimes confusion, the Signature Room and 360 CHICAGO are two entirely separate entities with different ownerships. We remain open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 days a week, and continue to operate our cocktail lounge- CloudBar and thrill ride- TILT, host a variety of events, and offer the very best views of Chicago. More information about 360 CHICAGO can be found on our website at 360CHICAGO.com or @360CHICAGO.”