Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Chi-Fi 0

I would like to extend a big thank you to James Dobbs, Anne Elliot and Matthew Duhan for a fantastic, albeit short, convention in Chicago this weekend.

"Chi-Fi" was originally scheduled to have its first ever convention at the Westin Chicago River North, but - with two months to go and a 100k+ contract in place - was forced to cancel due to "irreconcilable differences" with the Westin's hotel management. James Dobbs (con-chair) stated in an official statement he released: "A senior Westin employee referred to our staff, attendees, and guests as “freaks” and hotel staff expressed their disapproval of our anti-harassment policy." The full story is fascinating and quite an embarrassment for that particular Westin.

With such little time left, Chi-Fi postponed its first full con until next year, but decided to have a one-day event and, luckily for me, chose one of the best hotels in the US to have it in: The Palmer House Hilton, Chicago's oldest hotel and the longest hotel in continuing service in North America, which is credited with these cool firsts:
- First wholly-fireproof hotel in the United States (it was built after the great Chicago Fire out of stuff that doesn't burn - brick and iron).
- First hotel to have electric lights and telephones in the guestrooms.
- First hotel with elevators, or what then were described as "a perpendicular railroad connecting floor with floor, rendering passage by the stairs unnecessary."

To get to my room on the 18th floor, I had to take the perpendicular railroad.

It is so cool – amongst other things that make the hotel special is the ceiling of the two-storey lobby which was painted in France by the celebrated French Art Deco artist, Louis Pierre Rigal, and shipped to Chicago when that section was built in 1926. Off this outrageously grand lobby, at the bottom of the steps up to The Empire Room, are two huge "Golden Winged Angels", which "are among the priceless early works of Louis Comfort Tiffany."

Classy shit, I tell you.

In 1933, the Golden Empire Dining Room of Palmer House was converted into an entertainment epicenter. A Supper Club. It hosted legendary entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, George Burns, Buddy Hackett, Lou Rawls, Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante. In 1947, the Empire Room hired a new house pianist, his name – Liberace.

Times change, and on January 19, 1976, after 43 years, the 250 seater supper club became dark. Phyllis Diller was the final headliner. The list of previous hotel guests includes Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and now - Jason Carter.

Other firsts include – The Chocolate Brownie!
It's true!
Bertha Palmer requested of one of her hotel Chefs a dessert for ladies attending the Chicago 1893 World Fair; it should be, she said, smaller than a piece of cake, though still retaining cake-like characteristics and easily eaten from boxed lunches. Voila – The Brownie was born.

However, the most important thing that sets Palmer House Hilton apart from the aforementioned Westin was their welcome to the con:
“We are thrilled to welcome Chi-Fi to the hotel,” says Palmer House Hilton General Manager Dean Lane. “Hopefully, this event is just the start of a long-lasting relationship between Chi-Fi and the Palmer House.”

So this is a rambling first blog about a triumph for Chi-Fi and Geeks everywhere in the face of, shall we say... limited understanding.

Once again – Thank You James and Crew for a marvellous weekend in a great place I will always remember. I greatly look forward to Chi-Fi 2015 next year.