Discover City History on Lake Michigan | Columbia Yacht Club

28 November 2017

While residents of 1000M will enjoy incredible views of Lake Michigan from their luxurious homes, imagine getting even closer to the lake by taking advantage of the nearby Columbia Yacht Club.

A year-round home for lovers of the lake, sailing enthusiasts or people who enjoy good food in a relaxed atmosphere, the Columbia Yacht Club has been around for 125 years.

The club’s current home, a 372-foot former icebreaking ferry called the MV Abegweit, is moored at the foot of Randolph Street just east of North Lakeshore Drive. The Abby, as it’s known to the club’s 921 members, has been the club’s home since summer 1983 after operating in Canadian waters from 1947-1982.

While The Abby still looks like a working ship from the outside, once you take an elevator up to the lower salon lobby you’re transported into something more striking. The lobby, bar and library, where members gather to relax, have been gorgeously restored with wood paneled walls and display cases showing the histories of the ship and the club along with ephemera from sailing competitions.

The Sailing Club Dock

The Abby also houses five restored areas used for meetings and private events like wedding receptions: the rail deck, aft deck, upper salon, board room and bridge. The Columbia Sailing School operates from the forward hull of the ship and the dock area just south of The Abby.

The member dining room serves American bistro fare that includes newer items as well as dishes Chef Alberto Garcia and his staff call “Columbia Classics.” The Short Rib Stroganoff with sautéed onions and mushrooms, for one, is unforgettable.

“It’s like eating a hug,” said the club’s general manager, Nick Philp.

Like The Abby, the Columbia Yacht Club itself is steeped in history — a history that’s tied to Chicago’s own progress through the years.

A group of yachting enthusiasts — many who were city planners working with Daniel Burnham — established the club just a year after the Great Chicago Fire of 1891, as the city was rebuilding while preparing for the Columbian Exposition of 1893.

They named their club after the upcoming Exposition, and gave it the same welcoming spirit that drew nearly 27 million people to the Exposition.

“The club’s always been very open to all ethnicities, walks of life, religions,” Philp said. “The club has a history of not discriminating against anybody from any background, for any reason, which was especially in the yacht club world pretty unique. We’re fortunate for that. We continue that to this day.”

So if you’re worried you’ll need to don an ascot, blue blazer and stuffy attitude to join the fun, don’t. Two fairly recent guests for brunch agreed that members of the Columbia Yacht Club are anything but pretentious.

The Steering Wheel of The Abby

For Philp, that relaxed and friendly nature of the members sets Columbia Yacht Club apart from other private clubs in the city. Members sponsor numerous philanthropic events, and host member-employee events to create whet he calls “a unique atmosphere.”

“The people really are the best thing about this club,” Philp explains. “As far as the club’s operation, we’re probably 50 percent professional and 50 percent volunteer. A lot of people are very personally invested in the club. That creates a unique environment for progressive thought and for positive, forward thinking.”

But Philp doesn’t think you should take his word for it. He encourages anyone who is thinking about joining to experience the club for themselves. The club offers weekend passes to potential members that allows them to wine, dine or just hang out on The Abby.

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The Columbia Yacht Club // 111 N. Lakeshore Drive // www.colyc.org