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Skyscraper heartbreaker? Famed romantic restaurant atop former Hancock Center closes due to ‘severe economic hardship’

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For more than three decades, the posh restaurant atop the former John Hancock Center was the place to pop the question, enjoy a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, treat Mom on Mother’s Day or celebrate a special birthday.

But the Signature Room closed abruptly on Thursday, its owners citing “severe economic hardship.”

The high-end restaurant and lounge offered sweeping views of the city and Lake Michigan from the 95th and 96th floors of the 100-story skyscraper now known simply by its address, 875 N. Michigan.

Clientele at the famed spot over the years has included Bulls, Bears and Cubs players, politicians, actors pageant winners and rock stars. Lady Gaga slipped in more than decade ago to help her then boyfriend, actor Taylor Kinney, celebrate his 31st birthday.

But you didn’t have to be a celebrity to feel like you were on top of the world at the Signature Room.

“Everybody that walks in there, the first thing they ask for is, ‘Do you have a window seat?’ Because that’s one of the, no pun intended, signatures, about the restaurant,” said Darren Zancan, 42, who enjoyed a Valentine’s Day dinner there this year with his now fiancée.

The Crown Point, Ind., resident said he was surprised to hear it had shut down because it was “packed” when he and Deanna Glenn arrived. If they hadn’t had reservations, it would have been a multiple hour wait.

Zancan hopes another restaurant will open in the space, calling it a “no brainer.”

Signature Room at the John Hancock Building.

Signature Room at the John Hancock Building.

But a simple typewritten page told a different story on Thursday.

“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,” a letter posted in the elevator lobby reads.

“For over 30 years, we have had the privilege and honor of serving Chicagoans and visitors from all over the world,” the letter continues.

“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.”

The Signature Room’s owners posted a letter explaining the closure to the public.

The Signature Room’s owners posted a letter explaining the closure to the public.

The letter is signed by Richard Roman and Nick Pyknis, who own the restaurant under the name Infusion Management Group. The Signature Room opened in July 1993, according to the restaurant’s website. The restaurant is on the 95th floor of 875 N. Michigan Ave., and the Signature Lounge, the adjoining bar, is on the 96th.

“We take immense pride in being an integral part of the Chicago restaurant community, delivering exceptional fine dining experiences, and establishing ourselves as both a cherished ‘must-visit’ for tourists and a beloved local favorite,” the website said.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes the restaurant, said losing the Signature Room is a tough blow for the Magnificent Mile, which is nearing a 30% vacancy rate.

“This is a real loss to Michigan Avenue and the community. There’s a lot of sentimentality with that place,” Hopkins said. “My wife and I got engaged there, my sister and my cousin did as well. For generations of Chicagoans it was the go-to place for a romantic dinner. A lot of people are reacting with sadness that its long, successful run is over.” 

Braxton Dorris and his wife, Jennifer Taylor-Dorris, at the Signature Room for her birthday in May 2023.

Braxton Dorris, 53, took his wife, Jennifer Taylor-Dorris, to the Signature Room for her birthday this year.

Braxton Dorris, 53, who lives in Beverly, said he was “shocked” to hear about the closure.

“It was almost like the place to go downtown,” Dorris said. “They had the greatest view of any restaurant in the city.”

Dorris took his wife, Jennifer Taylor-Dorris, to the Signature Room for her birthday this past May. While he had been there a few times before, she never had, and now he said he’s glad he didn’t lose the chance to take her.

“I decided to take her this year because it just seemed like the perfect thing to do since we had put it off for so long,” he said. “We arrived just before sunset, and so we got to see the skyline change.”

Dorris said he hopes a new restaurant opens in the location, calling it “the perfect venue” for one, but added he hopes it keeps the quality of service of the Signature Room.

Sam Toia, the president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, praised the staff at the restaurant for their dedicated service over the years.

“The Signature Room at the 95th has been an icon in Chicago’s restaurant community for decades,” Toia said. “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.”

Hopkins said the owners’ decision to close was due to economic struggles following the COVID-19 pandemic and issues with renegotiating their lease.

New Jersey-based PGIM Real Estate and New York-based Madison Capital own the property, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

“For over 20 years, The Signature Room has thrived as an iconic establishment in Chicago and stands as one of the top-grossing restaurants nationwide. Chicago boasts some of the nation’s finest, and most innovative, dining experiences and this presents a very unique and exciting opportunity for the next operator,” said John Clote, senior vice president of Madison Capitol.

Crain’s, which first broke the news that the restaurant closed, reported in March that PGIM and Madison Capital had put the space up for sale. The companies hired brokers from Cushman & Wakefield’s Chicago Office to sell the space, advertising it as a unique offering providing stable cash flow.

Hopkins said the restaurant’s lease was last negotiated in late 2019, before the pandemic upended the city’s restaurant industry. Though Crain’s reported in March that Roman and Pyknis had recently extended their lease through 2031.

The Signature Room had gradually been recovering, but wasn’t back to pre-pandemic form, Hopkins said.

“They just couldn’t agree on new terms for the lease,” said Hopkins, who didn’t provide further details. “It’s harder than it seems to manage a business in that space and I don’t think the landlord fully appreciates that. It would be a mistake to underestimate the complexity of operating a restaurant in that space.” 

A memo to Signature Room staff obtained by NBC Chicago said closing was also due to issues with the restaurant’s lease. 

“We are extremely disappointed that new lease terms could not be successful renegotiated with our landlord and, thus, not allowing us to continue our mission at the place we all love. As a result, we are forced to close our doors,” the memo said.  

Crain’s also reported a memo sent to staff citing “safety issues and negative publicity” of Chicago as additional reasons for why Roman and Pyknis decided to close the Signature Room.

Mothers Day brunch at the Signature Room in 1999.

Mothers Day brunch at the Signature Room in 1999.

Signature Room at the John Hancock Building.

Signature Room at the John Hancock Building.

A dessert dish of blueberry tart is displayed next to the window for a restaurant review in 1999.

A dessert dish of blueberry tart is displayed next to the window for a restaurant review in 1999.

Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times file

Partial view of the dining area in 1999.

Partial view of the dining area in 1999.

Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times file

A night view in 1970 from a restaurant that preceded the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center.

A night view in 1970 from a restaurant that preceded the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center.

Larry Nocerino/ Sun-Times file

A view in 1973 from a restaurant that preceded the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center.

A view in 1973 from a restaurant that preceded the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center.

Smoke rises into early morning grayness as fire hits upper floors of the John Hancock Center sending drowsy residents to refuge in lobby and causing $30,000 damage. The blaze destroyed the Sybaris lounge on the 96th floor, hit sections of the 95th restaurant and damaged parts of the 97th floor. A fire official said the blaze was probably caused by discarded smoking materials.

Smoke rises into early morning grayness as fire hits upper floors of the John Hancock Center sending drowsy residents to refuge in lobby and causing $30,000 damage. The blaze destroyed the Sybaris lounge on the 96th floor, hit sections of the 95th restaurant and damaged parts of the 97th floor. A fire official said the blaze was probably caused by discarded smoking materials.

Pete Peters/Sun-Times files

Firemen look out a heat popped window in the Sybaris lounge, where damage was heaviest. The blaze raged through a restaurant lounge complex on the 95th and 96th floors.

Firemen look out a heat popped window in the Sybaris lounge, where damage was heaviest. The blaze raged through a restaurant lounge complex on the 95th and 96th floors.

Pete Peters/Sun-Times files

Workers cleaning up the mess after the fire in the restaurant on the 95th floor.

Workers cleaning up the mess after the fire in the restaurant on the 95th floor.

Pete Peters/Sun-Times files



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