The London Chop House is one of the most storied establishments of Old Detroit, perhaps second only to the J.L. Hudson's building in its infamy. People still tell stories about it to this day -- nearly anyone with any interest in Detroit history and/or dining culture can tell you that this was the place Chef Jimmy Schmidt cut his teeth before opening the Rattlesnake Club, or that this place was so popular that the Caucus Club was opened merely to contain its spillover (with another interesting sidestory that the Caucus Club was where Barbara Streisand got her start -- true, if only down to the actual letter of the phrasing). It was one of the top-ranked restaurants in the country from the 1950s into the '80s, collecting top honors from a variety of publications as well as a James Beard Award along the way. It was a revelation in painstakingly detailed tuxedoed service at a time when this kind of service was still very much in vogue, far exceeding other establishments in its committment to its customer experience.
When a guest made a reservation, he would arrive to find his table with books of matches and a reserved sign all imprinted with his name, as well as a card with a coin in a slot reimbursing him for his phone call. Alpha types jostled for table #1, while regulars glowed with the knowledge that their suavely jacketed waiter had remembered how many ice cubes they liked in their highballs.
The Chop House was a hallmark of Detroit's former grandeur, the very embodiment of wealth, power, and prestige that local industry afforded high-powered businessmen. To look at some of the old menus now reveals a steakhouse that is mostly unremarkable save for comparisons to anything other than a steakhouse, but this was the kind of place where the food played second string behind the concertmasters that were image, image, image. The London Chop House meant money, and diners may just as well have eaten their hundreds pan-seared with garlic and white wine for the privilege of being seen in a place imbued with such illustriousness.
But that Detroit is gone.
I'll spare you the hand-wringing over That Which Once Was; that time has passed and most of us who "reminisce" about it today weren't even alive to see it. The London Chop House is the preferred go-to reference point of how great Detroit once was, much as Slows is the contemporary go-to reference point of how great it can be once again. (Conversely it is also an fitting analogy of how far Detroit hath fallen; read this piece on its imminent closing, printed three years before it actually shut its doors, in the New York Times.) Anyone who has spent any length of time writing about food and/or history in this town has spilled their fair share of Internet ink waxing nostalgic on the Chop House (self included). So the news that leaked last week -- news that may have been a bit overlooked in the course of all the holiday hubbub -- that the London Chop House would be reopening after nearly 20 years was met with surprising quiet.
Here's what CAN be said: the restaurant that is opening is under the ownership of the Gatzaros family, local restaurateurs responsible for the Fishbone's chain as well as the fairly-new Wah-Hoo (an upscale Chinese restaurant in the Central Business District). It is being called the London Chop House & Cigar Bar. It will be located at 155 Congress St. in the lower level of the Murphy Building, the same location as before.
Aside from its name and location, any other similarities between the old Chop House and this doppleganger have yet to be revealed. The owners are extremely tight-lipped about it (like, legal action tight-lipped ... like, this might be my third law suit threat tight-lipped), and while it is supposedly scheduled to open in about a month there is almost no information available about it.
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