Thursday, March 17, 2022

Flashback 2012: Palmer House guests to act like dogs at tea party

Kitty at the Empire Room, 2012
(Photo for the Sun-Times)

     Over the weekend I was writing an actual letter to a dear friend—been a long time since I've done THAT—and mentioned the tea parties for dogs that the Palmer House held 10 years ago. It struck me that I've never posted the column I wrote about one, an oversight I leap to correct.

      What’s it like to be famous? Well, you walk out of an elevator at the Palmer House Hilton, into the splendid, Wedgewood-ceilinged lobby, and every face swivels in your direction. People light up, just light up, as you pass, big smiles breaking out, expectant nods, murmurs of appreciation. Feeling the attention upon you, you float on a cloud of benevolent interest, through the gilded lobby, down the stairs and out onto Wabash Avenue, where it doesn’t end. Attractive women pause to make conversation. The patrons inside Miller’s Pub see you and tap on the window, waving and smiling then, unable to stop themselves, they leave their drinks and rush out into the street to marvel that you are actually there. It’s very nice.
     Not that I’m famous, of course. People don’t know who I am and wouldn’t care if they did. But there’s something about walking a dog through a downtown hotel lobby — particularly when it’s a button-cute little dog like mine — that provokes a reaction that I imagine is very close to celebrity.
     Not every hotel is dog-friendly, but the Palmer House is. That’s why Kitty — that’s our dog’s name, it’s a long story — and I were there, to experience the hotel’s canine-coddling qualities, which include a big fluffy dog bed in a corner of your room, plus special Palmer House dog tags, custom baked biscuits and, best of all, the right to tromp through the lobby with your dog whenever you please. All they ask is that you not let your dog tear the place up, and kennel her if you leave her in the room so she doesn’t, you know, attack the chambermaid.
     Regular readers will remember that last year I attended the Palmer House’s Doggie Tea Party, without Kitty — I had to be somewhere that evening and couldn’t bring her downtown. It was a surreal scene — dogs in gold crowns gobbling down canine sushi set before them on a low, damask-covered table by white-gloved waiters, society ladies of indeterminate age and unimaginable wealth shrieking greetings at each other, planting air kisses, while immaculately dressed men who all seemed to be wedding planners or party consultants pressed one palm to their cheeks, grasped their elbows with the other, then sighed and commiserated about how difficult it is to find a really good dog chiropractor.
Kitty in the Empire Room
(Photo for the Sun-Times)
     Frankly, I wasn’t sure how well Kitty would fit in with that crowd — she isn’t a pure breed, after all, and buys her kibble at PetSmart as opposed to, I don’t know, having it shipped in from Fauchon in Paris. Or maybe she’d love it. She’s a dog. She tends to love everything. Maybe I’m the one who didn’t fit in. If walking a dog through the Palmer House lobby felt like being famous, trying to talk to my fellow dog tea partiers was one of the more anonymous things I’ve ever done — some guests seemed as if not only had they never read my newspaper but they had never read any newspaper. Conversations tended to be brief.
     Of course, last year’s tea party was an invitation-only affair, culled from the upper crust of the haut monde. This year’s, which takes place Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at the Palmer House’s Empire Room, 17 E. Monroe, is open to the public, for the first time. The event costs $30, all of which goes to benefit the Anti-Cruelty Society. Your dog not only gets a multi-course meal, but also you are plied with champagne, if you are so inclined, and a professional photographer will take your picture in the ornate setting, a keepsake to suggest to others that you lead a grander, more luxurious life than you actually do.
     I’ve been pondering whether to bite the bullet and take Kitty this year. She would have fun, but then she can have fun with a chewed-up tennis ball in my front yard. The Palmer House people of course would be happy, but my job isn’t to provide another supernumerary for their soirees. And me? I’d have to schlep her downtown. And while I do shudder recalling the sinking, What-Am-I-Doing-Here? feeling from last year’s party, that might be ameliorated by the admission of the general public, those non-botoxed, non-pickled in Chanel No. 5, salt-of-the-earth regular folks whose dogs do not have purses that match their own, yet still feel able to give $30 to a good cause in order to watch dogs with names like “Butch” and “Chief” caper under the crystal chandeliers in the Empire Room for 90 minutes.
     In fact, that might make all the difference — there were moments approaching near chaos last year, a woofing whir of dogs and waiters and matrons and gentlemen in $900 blazers. And that was before the public was admitted. Think of the effect on all those Margaret Dumont’s society parties once the doors fly open and the Marx Brothers burst in. Only this time they’ll have dogs in tow and be served champagne. Frankly, I think it will be something to experience. I should go. It’s a strange job, but somebody has to do it.
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, June 3, 2012

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