The Walnut Room has a long and rich history and is a signal to most families that the holiday season has arrived. The large tree, which is the centerpiece of the walnut room, dates back over 114 years. In addition to dining in the Walnut Room (which is located at Macy’s on State Street), visitors can also tour Santaland (by reservation) and view the Holiday Windows (now in its 54e year).
For those who have never been, dining under the Big Tree in the Walnut Room is one of Chicago’s most beloved traditions. This year’s Big Tree theme presents a journey of discovery as a very special reindeer soars into the sky to help Santa bring joy to millions of children, all made possible when ‘she finally believed. The large tree is 45 feet tall and hangs from the ceiling (unlike most trees that rest on their ground base). Since the tree is suspended from the ceiling, the very first piece to install is the star at the top, and then the design team lifts, builds and decorates the tree from top to bottom. Generations of families have grown up with this holiday tradition, making it a point to visit the illustrious tree.
While many devotees will stick with Ms. Hering’s beloved fan favorite Chicken Pie, other items include Cider Glazed Turkey and Frango Ice Cream Pie for dessert. Reservations can be made through opentable until January 9, 2022
The story of the walnut bedroom
The Walnut Room is the oldest restaurant in a department store. Opened in 1907 as the South Tea Room, it became known as the Walnut Room with its magnificent Circassian walnut woodwork and Austrian crystal chandeliers. In 1937, it was officially called The Walnut Room. At this location each year, the iconic 45-foot tall tree appears from November through early January.
What paved the way for the opening of the Walnut Room? In the 1880s, it was still unacceptable for a lady to dine without a gentleman’s escort. So if she was hungry or was in town during lunch hour, while she was shopping, she had no choice but to go home. One day, Ms Hering, a saleswoman in the headgear department, shared her own lunch – a homemade chicken pie from her grandmother’s recipe – with a hungry customer and the rest is history. Legend has it that her guest convinced Ms Hering to bake more pies for the next day and invited her friends over to dinner and see the last hats. As the story goes, Marshall Field made his daily tours, heard laughter in the reserve, and poked his head inside. Widely known for “giving the lady what she wants”, Field opened a modest tea room in 1890. The South Tea Room followed in 1907 and was officially named the Walnut Room in 1937. To this day, the Chicken Pie Ms. Hering’s is always the most popular dish on the menu.
I started eating at the Walnut Room when I was a kid and I’m happy to bring my kids back there. It is one of my favorite holiday traditions and I hope my children will one day continue with their children.