Serving 75 Years of Memories
Published May 1, 2008
A wooden, horse-drawn cart pulled up to Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern (1655 N. Sedgwick) last summer from Louis Glunz Beers, reminiscent of beer deliveries in 1932, the year Twin Anchors opened. This was just one of the many tributes that siblings and Twin Anchors owners Paul Tuzi, Mary Kay Cimarusti and Gina Manrique paid to the restaurant and tavern’s storied past during its 75-year anniversary celebration.
Among other festivities, in September 2007 Twin Anchors hosted approximately 200 people, including children of previous owners, loyal customers and long-time vendors, at a fundraising gala featuring a full orchestra, and impersonators of Frank Sinatra, Twin Anchors’ most famous customer, and Dean Martin. The gala raised approximately $15,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Commenting on the success of the event, Paul says, “Twin Anchors is one of the oldest restaurants in Chicago, and has a lot of meaning to a lot of people.”
A Taste of Old Chicago
Paul, Mary Kay and Gina’s father, Phil, purchased Twin Anchors in June1978 from Cyril and Rose Gard, who had owned the restaurant since the mid-1950s. Phil served as the insurance manager for the building, and when Cyril and Rose put the restaurant up for sale, he jumped on the opportunity to make a career change.
“My father was tired of working for a large company,” Paul says. “He wanted a business that he could control and call his own.”
Recognizing the unique charm of Twin Anchors, the Tuzi family has by-and-large maintained the restaurant and tavern’s cozy, neighborhood ambiance. Customers can still sit at the 40-foot mahogany bar that the Schlitz Brewing Company donated to the tavern that existed on the premises during World War I and that remained in place during Prohibition, when the space was transformed into a speakeasy named “Tante Lee Soft Drinks.” Low ceilings, wood-paneled walls, dark brown leather booths and red Formica tables add to the historic appeal of the restaurant and tavern.
Many of Twin Anchors’ traditions date back to its original owners, Bob Walters and Herb Eldean. While Herb’s involvement in Twin Anchors lasted only a couple of years, as the harbor master of Monroe Harbor, he is credited with coming up with its nautical name. Bob Walters and his wife established Twin Anchors as a destination for delicious, comforting fare. Soon after opening the restaurant and tavern in 1932, the Walters began offering customers Sunday-night meals featuring items such as fried chicken, pot roast, pork chops and barbecue baby back ribs. Since Twin Anchors did not have a kitchen when it first opened, the Walters prepared the food from their apartment directly above the business. The slow-cooked, tender and juicy pork ribs became an instant hit, and the Walters soon began offering them every night of the week.
Ribs remain the most popular item on the menu, according to Paul, and Twin Anchors serves more than 1,400 slabs of ribs each week. Customers can still order the Walters’ original “mild” sauce or the tangier and more popular “zesty” sauce that Paul’s brother, Peter, developed in the 1980s.
“People really loved the ribs back then and, fortunately, they still do,” says Paul.
Twin Anchors comprises a bar that seats 20 people, a restaurant that seats 70 people and, in warmer months, an outdoor patio that seats 24 people. Every night locals from Chicago and the suburbs, and visitors from around the world fill the restaurant and tavern to capacity.
“We don’t take reservations, and on weekends it’s common to see folks settling in at the bar for an hour or so as they wait for tables to open up and their names to be called,” says Paul.
Twin Anchors’ roster of customers includes innumerable celebrities, including talk show host Conan O’Brien, comedian and actor John Belushi, and playwright David Mamet. Sinatra visited the restaurant and tavern on several occasions between the 1950s and 1980s.
“There’s just something about this place,” says Paul. “It’s very easy to imagine him feeling at home here.”
Paul recalls meeting Sinatra in 1981, when he was in town to perform at the ChicagoFest concert at Navy Pier. Sinatra ordered 60 slabs of ribs to share with his orchestra and crew, and invited the Tuzi family to watch the show from backstage. Paul describes the experience as “electric.”
In 1999, Bonnie Hunt chose Twin Anchors as the setting for “O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant” in the romantic movie “Return to Me.” She co-wrote, directed and appeared in the film, and was familiar with the restaurant and tavern from her days at The Second City.
“She really wanted to film at Twin Anchors because she knew us and knew the place, and she thought it would be perfect,” says Paul. “‘Return to Me’ turned out to be a wonderful little film that people really liked.”
More recently, Aaron Eckhart filmed a scene in which he angrily questioned a corrupt police official for “The Dark Knight,” the sequel to “Batman Begins,” at Twin Anchors.
“We have never actively marketed Twin Anchors to celebrities,” Paul says. “Anyone that finds out about it does so independently.”
Destination Twin Anchors
Before taking charge of the restaurant and tavern in the early 1990s, Paul, Mary Kay and Gina learned the business from the ground up. Paul was 19 when their father purchased Twin Anchors, and he immediately began working in the kitchen. After graduating from DePaul University, he became Twin Anchors’ day manager and then one of its night mangers. Mary Kay, who was 16 at the time, began in the restaurant and tavern as a hostess. She also attended DePaul University and eventually became one of Twin Anchors’ bartenders. Gina was only nine when their father purchased Twin Anchors. She began bussing tables once she entered high school and eventually became a bartender.
Today, customers will find Paul, Mary Kay or Gina in the restaurant every night of the week, managing a staff of approximately 45 employees – some of whom have worked at Twin Anchors for more then 20 years.
“Having dedicated owners and employees who care about the restaurant and for whom it’s a top priority to keep the business successfully operating has been important to our success throughout the years,” says Paul. “It helps us maintain consistency in our operations and get to know our clientele.”
While remaining true to its roots, the Tuzi family has adapted Twin Anchors to the times. Most notably, according to Paul, Twin Anchors has transformed during the past 30 years from primarily serving as a neighborhood tavern to serving as a restaurant.
“Twin Anchors is now a destination restaurant – a place to go for a really great slab of ribs – rather than just a place to go for a cold beer.”
In addition to serving the historical items on the menu – barbecue ribs, fried and barbecue chicken, steaks, and burgers – the Tuzi family has added grilled chicken, grilled fish and pulled pork sandwiches, a vegetarian sloppy joe, and a grilled shrimp skewer to Twin Anchors’ offerings. They also now offer valet parking and accept credit cards.
Perhaps the most prominent change is the “Positively No Dancing” sign that the Tuzi family hung up in Twin Anchors in 1980.
“People were coming in, playing disco on the jukebox and dancing the Hustle,” says Paul. “They would knock into waitresses carrying beers or plates of ribs, and create a big mess.”
According to Paul, for the most part, people stopped dancing once the sign went up. Today, he says, “Positively No Dancing,” which the Tuzi family recently trademarked, has become an unofficial slogan for the restaurant.
“People sometimes come in and take pictures of themselves dancing in front of the sign,” he says. “It’s all part of the memories that are created here. When you’re in the restaurant business, you’re in the business of creating memories.”