It's been a month since my visit to East Bank Club in Chicago, so I want to share with you some of the behind the scenes of my visit as well as a few leftovers from my September issue cover story (sorry, no leftovers from my lunch at the club).
First of all, my thanks to Daniel Levin, the club's founder and CEO, for inviting me to the club. Levin is our Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and the subject of our September cover story. We look forward to presenting him with the award Oct. 25 at the Club Industry show in Chicago.
Also thanks to Club Manager Simon Meredith and Nathan Aydelott, the club's director of marketing, for their hospitality and guiding me on the tour. If you get a chance to tour the club, whether you live in Chicago or will be in town for our show next month, you'll need a full day to get the proper perspective. With 450,000 square feet, there's definitely a lot to see and digest.
On my visit, I passed by the secret garage entrance John Travolta used when he arrived for a special taping of a show with Oprah Winfrey. One story I didn't get into the sidebar of the profile was when Oprah's O magazine first hit the stands, she questioned Levin why the East Bank Club's pro shop did not have copies of the magazine in it. The next day, after Meredith spent much time hustling to purchase copies around town, the pro shop was stocked with O magazines.
Other extras from the story and the famous people who have entered the doors of East Bank Club: Jesse Jackson gets his haircut there. Michael Jordan once filmed a commercial on one of the club's basketball courts. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel swims laps at the club. And you may have heard of Barack Obama and his time at the club, too.
Speaking of presidents, Meredith remembers seeing a photo in a major magazine of Bill Clinton golfing in an East Bank Club sweatshirt during his days running for office. He also claims Matthew Broderick was wearing an East Bank Club T-shirt in the famous parade scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (although after close inspection of the scene, I still wasn't able to spot the club's logo).
Meredith is the classic manage-by-walking-around manager. Every so often on our tour, he stopped to pick up a piece of paper on the floor or propped up some business cards on a table. The cynic in me might have thought he planted those items ahead of time. Then later in the day, when I was a little lost, a staff member from the member services office guided me where I needed to go, and along the way, she picked up a piece of paper off the floor. (They don't just preach it, they do it.)
The tour took me through the club's kitchen, where chefs were dicing up celery and preparing salads and meals for the day. (For a moment, I kind of felt I was in that back-entrance Copacabana scene in "Goodfellas.") I had the good fortune to sample the food at lunch in the club's grill, and it was D-lish. You can't go wrong with the EBC burger, complete with onion straws, bacon, cheese and a fried egg. Sure, it's a health club, and there are many healthy food options available. But East Bank Club also serves a lot of tasty foods to please its members.
After lunch and a quick video interview with Levin in his office, I tried to work off the burger (and turkey chili…and cookies) in the huge cardio room as well as on the club's indoor track. A few more videos and photos later, it was time to head home, feeling satisfied with both my story and my stomach.