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Posted by ADDISON BELMONT on 12/20/2006
These days, there's nothing but an empty lot where Ronny's Steak House stood until a few years ago, but the place was a true Chicago landmark. With its half-burned out chaser lights & cracked plastic sign, the facade evoked an older, grittier Loop, even as the real thing reinvented itself all around. It was like finding Edward Hopper's all-night diner wedged in between a Corner Bakery & a Starbucks. Weird, but good. And most of all, real. Outside, the wind blew the dirty snow into weird shapes & the El clattered so loud overhead you could hardly talk, and inside, it was cramped steamy & not all that clean, but once you got in--and forced the door shut-- Willie & Tyrone behind the steel counter greeted you with big a smile & warmed you up with a flash of greasy flame as they tossed your cheap steak onto the grill. Ronny's steaks were either tough as leather or all fat, but they tasted good and the fries were to die for--probably literally, if you ate there too often, because the oil they were cooked in must have been half beef fat. And of course, there were consequences the next day. Even so, I loved the place. And you saw everyone in there: penniless students from DePaul, ancient socialist professors from Roosevelt, performers catching a fast dinner between shows over at the Auditorium and the local Streetwise vendors. Ronny's was an institution in the best sense of the word. After my job moved out of the neighbrorhood, I only got back down there a few times a year, and then, the next thing I knew it was gone. The whole thing. In the 193Os, this building was Chicago's Automat, and in the 189Os, it was a hotel designed by Dankmar Adler (you could still see a bit of Adler's ornamental iron peeking out from behind the 193Os brickwork) but it's as Ronny's III that most of us will remember it. The new, clubby gussied-up Ronny's in the Thompson Center just doesn't do it for me. Addison Belmont.