by Tony Adler
There were antipasti and moviehouse candies available before the showing, slider-size sandwiches after (provided—rather sweetly, I thought—by friendly competitor Phil Stefani, who appears in the movie talking about how much he learned from G&G). At the buffet station, a guy carved slices of prosciutto that dropped onto a platter alongside crumbles of good aged cheese. When they weren't offering boxes of pop corn and bags of Swedish Fish or Twizzlers, servers brought drinks from the open bar.
And the movie? Well, they call it a documentary, but it's really a lovefest on film. Durpetti's basic strategy was to take relatives, employees, longtime regulars, and colleagues (not only Stefani but Rich Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and a frightened-looking meat purveyor), seat them in little affinity groups around tables at the restaurant, give them wine and food, and get them talking. A chatty young woman for whom G&G history is also family lore, Durpetti gets a lot of screen time—as do her parents, the current keepers of the G&G broiler flame, Tony and Marion. The conversational vignettes are generally intercut with old pictures.
There are some neat little tidbits. Tony Durpetti says G&G's three-story home under the el at Franklin and Illinois was built in 1874, possibly with wood salvaged from the Chicago fire. Frank Sinatra was apparently a great friend of the place, while Lucille Ball had to learn to love it. And next time I stop in, I'll ask to be shown what one of the customers calls—in passing, as it were—the "Sid Luckman booth," named for the legendary quarterback who was in his third season with the Chicago Bears when G&G opened in 1941. But most of what goes on here is insider ball: old pals exchanging tributes.
It's nice, it's homey, but I hope Michelle Durpetti decides to take it further. This is an opportunity not only to explore a real Chicago institution, but to get at a fascinating swath of Chicago itself. At points throughout the movie, people allude to the powerbrokers, stars, and scribes among G&G's clientele; I want to know more. A lot more. I want details and connections and context. As it is, there aren't even subtitles to identify the people we do see.
And so much more could be said about the food and the career waiters!
I know Michelle Durpetti wasn't looking to create a magnum opus—just a tribute to the family business on a significant round-number anniversary. She succeeds at that, too. But now that she's put her toe in, it'd be a shame if she didn't take the plunge. Of course, doing so may run counter to the G&G sense of discretion. As one of the longtime regulars remarks in the movie, by way of explaining why the restaurant's staff don't fawn over famous customers, "People here are smart enough to know you're here because you're smart enough to know."