v28-4 Snowdrop

Vol. XXVIII No. 4 - FALL 2017

By John Holden

Epic Story of Fabled Edgewater Nightspot, Detailed by Chicago Cultural Historian

In recent years, Gino’s North at 1111 W. Granville Avenue has been best known for its great thin crust pizza and $7 martinis. But on the afternoon of September 24, Chicago’s official cultural historian, Tim Samuelson, took center stage before a capacity crowd at the establishment – once known as The Snowdrop – to tell the unusual back story of how one of the country’s best-preserved Art Moderne cocktail lounges was ultimately inspired by a nude bathing beauty in 19th Century Sweden.

Opened in 1940 by proprietor Frank Nichols, a Greek immigrant who had already chalked up success as a restaurateur in Rogers Park, The Snowdrop was intended to be “Chicago’s most elegant cocktail lounge.” As detailed by Samuelson, Nichols spared no expense on the intimate nightspot. Unlike most establishments, the bar, booths and other décor at The Snowdrop were custom made for the location, as opposed to being ordered out of a catalog as was the standard practice.

The entire space was designed around a centerpiece sculpture of Snowdrop, once one of the world’s most famous statues. It was designed by a 19th Century Swedish sculptor who tried to capture the glories of a woman bathing in a stream he happened upon during a walk through the wilderness. A replica of the statue was a centerpiece at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, before eventually making its way to Nichol’s restaurant, according to Samuelson.

For decades, Nichols worked tirelessly to have The Snowdrop live up to the beauty of its namesake: a dress code was strictly enforced; inappropriate language would result in immediate expulsion; the juke box played only classical music. The spot played long host to Chicago’s smart set, which included numerous members of the Chicago Bears many of whom resided for years across the street at The Sovereign Hotel.

Nichols also played a leading role in the redevelopment of Sheridan Road in Edgewater, according to Samuelson. When the area’s once grand mansions fell into disrepair, Nichols led efforts to replace them with the modern high rises which currently dominate the area.

Sadly, like much of the area, The Snowdrop fell on hard times in the 1970s and 1980s, and a later proprietor took his life in despair over the area’s sad state. Even the beloved Snowdrop statue was lost when it was accidentally destroyed while being transported.

But not lost was the unique Art Moderne décor, which eventually was expertly restored when the established was refurbished and turned into Gino’s North in the early 2000s. A rough approximation of the Snowdrop was also found and today continues to preside over one of Chicago’s most unusual gathering spots.