Blue jeans, red faces and one of the White City’s coolest clubs

The ghost of Pablo Picasso whispered to us as we entered the historic lobby of the Union League Club of Chicago.

“Art washes away from the soul the everyday dust of life.”

“Whew!” said we, as we wiped our salt-stained boots on the door mat and mucked our way up to our room to change for the club’s annual George Washington dinner.

One thing I now know about the Union League Club of Chicago is that their strict dress code prohibits jeans.

One thing I did not know about the Union League Club of Chicago last Friday afternoon is that their strict dress code prohibits jeans.

Mortified and stuck in the redundantly phrased Chicago traffic, I called ahead as soon as my daughter texted me this helpful bit of information.

“Hi, my husband and I are about to check in and we just learned about your dress code. We have suitable attire for the evening, but we are wearing jeans,” I babbled.

“You can check in wearing jeans,” said the friendly receptionist. “But then you’ll have to go straight to your room.”

We happily obeyed and, heads bent sheepishly and eyeballs trained to the hallway floor, we high-tailed it to our room.

This is how we initially missed both Mr. Picasso’s kind whisper and the unbelievable art to which he obviously referred.

Art infuses the Union League of Chicago with both a sense of history and a keen understanding of the founder’s mission. Members can bend to tie the shoes beneath an original Claude Monet, purchased by the Club in 1895. They can amble down a hallway filled with original photographs by Charles Dudley Arnold.

I stood beneath Edwin Blashfield’s mural “Patria” and pondered its history as I read the club’s motto carved below Welcome to loyal hearts. We Join ourselves to no party which does not carry the flag and keep step to the music of the union.

We enjoyed a guided tour by the Club’s curator Elizabeth Whiting, who showed us a restoration in progress. The Club has an in-house painting conservator and houses more than 800 works of art.

I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to wobble through the hallways on my unfamiliar heels, and soak in the art and history of the place. Club Members played a key role in bringing the World Fair of 1893 to Chicago and building the White City; that passionate support for art continues today. Really, I could have wandered through those rooms all night, but we had a party to attend.

Later, back in our room, we talked about how wonderful the evening had been.

Then, I look at my suitcase where only our two lonely pairs of jeans looked back at us.

“But how are we going to get out of here?” I asked.

We’ve known my husband’s former college roommate Guy Maras for more than 30 years. He was one of the first of our friends to hold our baby son back in 1987. Today he is an attorney, the proud father of four very bright girls, husband of a lovely artist and president of the ULCC. We enjoyed our evening at the ULCC thanks to the generous hospitality of Guy and Gina Maras.
Giant flag
In addition to and in conjunction with its commitment to art, the ULCC honors its proud tradition of patriotism. Founded in 1879, the Club has an “institutional commitment to public policy and community service.”
George Washington Dinner
It seemed an appropriate setting for George Washington’s birthday.
National Anthem
The Chicago Blackhawks’ Jim Cornelison sang one of the most stirring renditions of the National Anthem we’d ever heard in front of one of the largest indoor flags we’d ever seen.
Ice sculpture
I just thought this ice sculpture looked cool.
Honor guard stairwell
Another measure of the Club’s commitment to patriotism was this honor guard, as seen through the winding staircase.
Restored art
The club has its own art restoration room, where this piece is being carefully refurbished.
The mural over this mantle caught my eye and it took me forever to shoot this picture the way I wanted it. After the unfortunate blue jean incident, I didn’t think I should be lugging around my camera, so I took all of these photos with my more discreet cellphone.
Club members walk past this Monet every day.
Art corner
Art literally fills every corner of these rooms.

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