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Old Town Favorite

by By Peter Gianopulos | Men's Book Chicago magazine | March 11, 2011

 Every so often, a confused soul—usually some Gen-Y blogger raised on a sad diet of Top Chef and Starbucks—saunters up to the mahogany bar at Gene & Georgetti and asks owner Tony Durpetti what his secret is. How his restaurant, with its soundtrack of El trains and a menu boasting calves’ livers with heaps of grilled onions and bacon, has managed to outlast every steakhouse in town. After all, Gene & Georgetti turns 70 this summer.

The answer will be right in front of the poor kid. But he won’t see it. He’ll expect a secret steak rub, only to find that Durpetti doesn’t even season his meat. He cooks it just the way his father-in-law, Gene Michelotti, did when he opened the place in 1941 with Alfredo Federighi.   Steak. Broiler. White plate. A.1. optional.   Consistency is one key, says Durpetti, who bought the restaurant from his father-in-law in 1989. “My father-in-law, he never cut down on the quality or the portions, even when business was bad,” he says. Other factors? “He was a little Italian guy, came here when he was 15. But he was a loveable guy and when people met him they liked him. And then Frank Sinatra came here—everyone went nuts. That’s it, that’s the story.”             One of the last standing titans of old Chicago, Gene & Georgetti is at least as famous for the Hollywood legends who’ve loved it, from Sinatra to Bob Hope, and for being a nexus of city power-broking, as for its steaks. But you won’t get much out of Durpetti. When asked for a favorite story, he says, “To be honest, the celebrities that come here, we protect them.”             Sinatra is the star most identified with the restaurant, though. “He would come in at one in the morning; my father-in-law would keep the door open,” says Durpetti. These days, Johnny Depp and Russell Crowe count it as a favorite. And though only the dimly lit corners know the juicy details of the infinite number of deals struck here over 70 years by Chicago pols and businessmen, one biggie Durpetti will acknowledge is the $8 billion CME/CBOT merger in 2006, which was done “in two different meetings here.”             Durpetti expanded the 1874 building in 1997 but, besides that, very, very little has changed. “We’ve added a few things, like pastas, but the steaks? No, they’re same size, same portion, same everything.” Durpetti also upholds another of his father-in-law’s traditions—full health benefits for all of the restaurant’s 50 employees.             Keeping the flame alive seems to have been Durpetti’s destiny. “I grew up 75 feet away from Gene & Georgetti,” he says. How he came to own the restaurant is a great, long, complicated story. So do yourself a favor: Ask him to tell you over a martini and steak, in person.  

500 N. Franklin St., 312.527.3718, geneandgeorgetti.com