There’s nothing palatial about the Palace Grill, but it’s the eatery of choice for Blackhawks fans and staff – and it’s the most official “unofficial” restaurant around town.
The Blackhawks have made a remarkable comeback since the days they were ranked the second-worst sports franchise in North America, ahead of only the Los Angeles Clippers. On game nights in the early 2000s, George Lemperis would look out at the Palace Grill and there might be three tables of fans. Lemperis never gave up on the Blackhawks, even when his hometown did. But the last decade has been the salad days for the franchise and Lemperis, who owns the now-famous restaurant where you can get a pretty good salad and a sandwich before the game. The Palace Grill is an institution with Blackhawks fans and, for that matter, players. One morning in the early 1990s, Chicago defenseman Chris Chelios was out having some beverages with friends and popped into the Palace Grill at about 3 a.m. Lemperis hadn’t arrived yet, but none to worry. Chelios jumped behind the grill himself. “My cousin came in with a bunch of his friends, and they didn’t believe I was friends with the Blackhawks,” Lemperis said. “And there’s Chris Chelios behind the grill cooking breakfast for his friends. I came in a little later and I missed it all, but they left me with a mess. Everything was dirty, but that’s OK.”
When the Blackhawks finally won the Stanley Cup in 2010, the chalice made four appearances at the Palace Grill that summer and six times in the summer of 2013 when they won it again. Among the hundreds of Blackhawk pictures that line the walls is one of Lemperis holding the Cup over his head.
“Look at that!” he gushed. “Nobody gets to hold the Cup over their head!” Blackhawks players have long been a fixture at the Palace Grill, though not so much lately since they’ve hired their own chef to cook meals for them after every practice. But it has long been a haven for hockey writers and broadcasters. Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, the voice of hockey on NBC, is a regular who loves the food but is always on the lookout for a waiter by the name of Ricky, who often walks about the establishment with laces around his neck. His practical gag is to tie people to their chairs through their belt loops when they’re not looking. “That guy is a like a ninja,” said one Palace Grill regular.
Even if players don’t stop by as much, team staff members make the trek four blocks east of the United Center. On this day, Lemperis served breakfast to the fathers of Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw, Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad. “I’ve become friends with the families,” Lemperis said. “They all come here.” One of the regulars is team president John McDonough. A couple years back, Lemperis put a Hawks logo on the vestibule outside the restaurant and billed it, ‘The Unofficial Restaurant of the Chicago Blackhawks.’ He was then informed by a friend the team might not be too thrilled about his using their brand. So Lemperis invited McDonough for lunch and showed him the vestibule, telling him he would take it down if it was causing a problem. “He said, ‘That’s why you called me here? Just for that?’ ” Lemperis said. “He said, ‘There’s only one thing wrong with this. You take down that unofficial and change it to official. That’s what we think of you.’ This is John McDonough. That’s pretty cool.”
This feature appears in the 2014-15 Season Commerative edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.