I finally made it to the Cloud Room. A divine ascent, after all these years.
It didn’t look promising back in 1967, when I was a 22-year-old airman. We worked at midnight in a windowless compound on northern tip of Taiwan, straining to hear the calls and responses of Chinese pilots and controllers, just across the Strait.
Some nights, however, the MiGs were quiescent, inactive. On those nights we listened to commercial radio programs relayed from the States and rebroadcast by Armed Forces Radio.
In the depths of night an announcer boomed, “It’s Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club! Coming to you from the Cloud Room of the Beautiful Hotel Allerton on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile!”
The McNeill Experience
In the murk that enveloped the Pacific Rim in the wee hours, we heard sunshine in the voice of ever-chatty Don McNeill, who had brightened America’s mornings for thirty-five years. He was the pioneer of the concept that people coast-to-coast would listen to idle chatter interspersed with music in their waking hours.
My mind’s eye pictured the Cloud Room of the Beautiful Hotel Allerton with walls of gleaming jasper and pillars wrought in 24-karat gold.
It must be some swell place, judging from the staff announcer’s enthusiasm. And it was.
The Cloud Room, on the stately Allerton’s twenty-third floor, had been called the Tip Top Tap until it was renamed in 1963, just before McNeill’s long-beloved show took up residence there. “TIP-TOP-TAP” in giant letters remained emblazoned across its upper stories for all Chicagoans to see. In recent years, the old name has been restored to the room itself.
Despite the “tap” in its name, the twenty-third floor has no permanent functioning bar. These days the elegant space is reserved for meetings, such as last weekend’s “Let’s Just Write!” conference sponsored by the Chicago Writers Association, which is what drew me there, after my fifty-five years of forlorn pining.
I must say the Allerton, now the Warwick Allerton, is looking good as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2024. The twenty-third floor is divided between the Tip Top Tap on one end and two smaller, but still large, meeting rooms—the Michigan and Huron rooms—at the other. All have large, wrap-around windows affording a lordly view of downtown Chicago.
It was nice to be there, especially on a sunny day. And the meeting was great, too.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)