The Ivanhoe restaurant at 3000 N. Clark St. in Chicago was a favorite place of fine dining where all meals were served by waiters, only waiters.
But there was one waitress you need to know. Mary was the most outrageous (and only) waitress at the Ivanhoe who fools her guests with her clever and unique act as a deadpan fumbling waitress.. She would wander from table to table and “annoy” unsuspecting guests with her unconventional waitress skills (or lack thereof). Her primary asset was a poker face and a top-notch knack for fumbling. Mary was an act, a wonderful entertainer, who worked for tips and made the Ivanhoe so much more special.
She had many outrageous routines. In her starched waitress uniform she would approach a table and pick up someone’s fork and rinse it out in their water glass. And if the guest had a bald head, she might take a napkin and carefully buff it to a shine. Mary might pop up in front of another unsuspecting guest, serve him coffee with her thumb in the cup, brush crumbs off the table into his lap or offer him a menu and then take it back away when he grabs for it. There was no end to her hilarious repertoire.
Most guests were polite and confine themselves to just glaring at her when she starts “serving” them. Most of them catch on that it’s a gag but some would get very angry when Mary, never cracking a smile, snatched their plates before they were done eating. Guests that were not in the know would sometime complain loudly and with righteous indignation call for a manager only to learn that Mary is an entertainer, not a server. In fact there were no waitresses at the Ivanhoe, but only waiters. She even fooled one of the regular Ivanhoe waiters who unwittingly told her that she would better watch her step or she would be fired. She was probably the only woman in the country that pleased people by making them mad
As an actress she worked for tips, you could tip her in advance to target an unsuspecting guest in your party. It was great fun.
She learned the deadpan fumbling waitress routine by accident when a friend asked her to try it at a country club party. She’s learned about human behavior and how her “victims” react in the some 12 years doing her act at the Ivanhoe. She learned for example “if you hand them a plate or silverware they will hold it for you without knowing why”.
I remember watching Mary perform circa 1953 or so when my family would gather to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. My dad Fred and my mother Evelyn loved the Ivanhoe and spent more than one New Year’s Eve there along with my mother’s grandparents Nick and Gussie. They call it a double date.
Mary was born Meta “Mary” Ediencheink 1883 in Ohio. Her father was John Ediencheink and her mother’s maiden name was Robertson . At age 23 on October 3, 1906 she married Fred Robert Polensky in St. Joseph Michigan. Fred was born October 9, 1881, but changed his name to Walton
Mary and Fred went on to have an incredible vaudeville career under the name Walton and Brant spanning at least 25 years beginning about 1917 . On the vaudeville circuit they were on stage more than 100 times and appeared In at least 60 cities and at least 23 states from New York to California.
Fred died on July 9, 1942, at age 54 at their home on East Oak St. in Chicago. He was cremated at Acacia Park Cemetery. Even before Fred’s death, Mary had started her wonderful deadpan waitress routine about 1939 or so playing nightclubs, conventions and banquets. It was an outgrowth of the Walton and Brant comedy act and after vaudeville as a s successful solo actress.
About July 1943 or so she began working at the Ivanhoe restaurant. Already an ad in the 1944 Billboard Music Yearbook states that it was her “75th week at the Ivanhoe Garden”
Ralph Janssen opened the Ivanhoe restaurant at 3000 North Clark St. in 1920 as a speakeasy. Described as the “romantic Ivanhoe” or the Ivanhoe Castle, some called it the “seventh wonder of Chicago”. There was dancing and entertainment in the enchanted Forest. There a dance floor where you could waltz in a circle completely around and behind the fine orchestra.
“300 feet” below the restaurant was the famous Catacombs reached by a “trick” elevator which actually went nowhere. You entered an “elevator” which made all kinds of noise and shuddered, but you left by another door and then walked down curving stairs into the catacombs by yourself, actually the Ivanhoe’s lower level. The elevator was just a spoof which never went anywhere. Down in the catacombs you found the Black Night bar and Friar Tuck’s cellarage. For a time Two Ton Baker, the spokesman for Riverview amusement park, held court there, singing and playing the piano..
Mary continued being the only waitress at the Ivanhoe until at least October 1955. In later years the Ivanhoe had problems. A dynamite bomb ripped the entrance and vestibule on August 12, 1964 and there was a devastating fire on February 1, 1977. It is now a Binn’s Beverage Depot with a tasting room in what used to be the Catacombs.
. I have not conclusively found when Mary died but I believe it might have been 1963 at age 80. That search is still a work in progress.
If you or your family remember Mary, I would love to have you leave a comment sharing your experience. And if you only have a memory of the dining or dancing at the Ivanhoe please share that as well. All comments are welcome!
Both Mary and the Ivanhoe will be missed.
5 thoughts on “The ONLY Fumbling Waitress at Chicago’s Ivanhoe”
Great story….I remember going to the Ivanhoe for dinner with my family. Thanks to your article, I now remember the outside of the unique building, the scary elevator ride, and the “catacombs.” I loved going there as a child, and I believed that it was a special, enchanting place. Such a fun memory of good times with my family. Thank you!
Thank YOU for your memory. Wonder if ou were at the next table from me.? LOL
I remember going to the Ivanhoe in the 60s; in particular I remember the fake elevator and stone stairs to the lower level..
My mother, her brothers & my dad & his brothers all worked at the Ivanhoe in the middle to late 40s. I was a baby & we lived in an apartment at Halstead & Wellington. Many pictures from the photo booth & all of my uncles as car valets. Mom was a coat check & cigarette girl. I remember my mother telling Ralph Jensen stories when I was much older. Just had to share!
I can’t say I remember Mary, but I sure do remember the catacombs. In fact, I think they even changed the temperature, or turned on a fan, to change the airflow and add believe ability to the decent to (almost) nowhere. It wasn’t until my 3rd or 4th ride that someone clued me in and I will NEVER forget it. Thanks for the “Mary” story. I’m sure she was a draw.
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