Navy Pier, like most Chicago restaurants and tourist attractions, struggles to attract business during winter. But one restaurant owner has an idea to address the problem. Grant DePorter is no stranger to stunts. The president and chief executive officer of Harry Caray’s has blown up a baseball and served it in spaghetti sauce. Last year, he even promoted the beloved baseball announcer in a campaign for mayor (of Rush Street).
Now, he’s celebrating the life of one of the restaurant’s partners, legendary filmmaker and comedian Harold Ramis. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Ramis’ death, and the city of Chicago is prepping to declare Friday, February 2 — Groundhog Day — as Harold Ramis Day. Ramis is responisble for hits like Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, and Groundhog Day. The latter is the 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray.
DePorter and the rest of the staff at Harry Caray’s Tavern at Navy Pier are prepping a special event on the date. DePorter has spent the last few weeks gathering artifacts and props to throw a Groundhog Day ceremony that would make his friend proud. He’s even procured the Armani coat Murray wears in most of the movie and has commissioned a 150-pound tree stump. Movie producer Erica Mann Ramis, the director’s wife, will also appear at the event.
“I’m just trying to get people excited in February to give people a reason to come to Downtown Chicago,” DePorter says.
The restaurant world is slow during the winter in Chicago. Weather forecasters put folks on edge with their storm alerts, warning folks about snow that sometimes never comes. And that leads to empty dining rooms and cancelations. There’s also a sometimes negative perception of Chicago coming from the suburbs. These are challenges that restaurant owners around town have expressed frustration to Eater Chicago about.
Events like this aim to combat those hurdles. Ald. (2nd Ward) Brian Hopkins and Ald. (42nd Ward) Brendan Reilly are expected with the latter reading the proclamation. Meanwhile, several actors from the movie will appear — including Brian Doyle Murray (Buster Green), David Pasquesi (the Psychiatrist), and Peggy Roeder (the Piano Teacher). But the real star of the show is the groundhog; the fuzzy critter holds the fate of Chicago’s winter by whether or not it sees its shadow. Groundhog Day is a popular event in Woodstock, Illinois. And that’s where DePorter found a groundhog handler to provide the animal for next month’s event.
The average lifespan of a groundhog is 12 to 14 years in captivity. So, alas, the same groundhog from the movie is no longer available. There is a chance the stand-in is a distant relative; DePorter says they’re using the same handler that was used in the movie.
Harry Caray’s will also serve food and drink inspired by Tip Top Cafe, the restaurant featured in the movie, where Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell repeatedly dine. DePorter says when word got out about the tribute to Ramis, several Ghostbusters fans reached out and pledged to show up in full costume. DePorter says he owns the jumpsuits worn by Bill Murray and Ramis in the original movie.
For anyone placing a bet if the groundhog will see its shadow, DePorter has no inside information.
“All I can say is that we’re not sticking to the script,” he says.
“Groundhog Day’ reunion and Harold Ramis Day, 3 p.m. on Friday, February 2 at Harry Caray’s Tavern Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Avenue.