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About Hamilton Walker's


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About Hamilton Walker's


 

Hamilton Walker’s is the community’s gathering place. Founded by three long-time residents of Champaign, this modern steakhouse with a chic 1940's Hollywood vibe is an inviting gathering place and backdrop for meeting, dining, and socializing; for friends, family, and business; for toasting special events and celebrating life.

Our mission is to offer memorable food and flawless service in an extraordinary setting.

The kitchen is stewarded by widely-respected culinarian, Chef Zachary Schweig.  Our inspired menu—created from the finest premium aged meats, freshest seafood, and hand selected produce, and expertly prepared with the highest quality ingredients and flavorful seasonings—offers a superior dining experience, presented with Hamilton Walker's signature flair.

Hamilton Walker's team, led by General Manager JJ Dupuy, embraces the philosophy of exceptional service.  We consider our employees our most important resource, our best ambassadors, our family.  We commit to providing the training and support they need to meet the promise we make to each and every guest, each and every time they visit Hamilton Walker's.

 
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The Legend of Hamilton Walker


an Alternate History

The Legend of Hamilton Walker


an Alternate History

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story
— Mark Twain

Local historians, city chroniclers, archivists, and memory keepers agree that the site on which Hamilton Walker’s stands, at 201 N. Neil Street, is an iconic local heritage. Constructed as an armory in either 1881 or 1884, the building was acquired and transformed into the Walker Opera House, the first legitimate theater in the area that became the epicenter of arts and culture in Champaign. Over the next three decades until 1914, the building transformed from opera house to vaudeville hall, movie theater to venue for high school dances and graduations, assembly site for big game victories to thriving downtown hub. In 1917, the Hamilton Hotel was erected on the same site and enjoyed years of prosperity. Many still remember the fire of 1977 that took the top two floors of the hotel, before the building was occupied by the Chicago Title and Trust. Our name pays homage to these two historic edifices—the Walker Theater and the Hamilton Hotel.

However, a recurring legend about Hamilton Walker—an alternate history—narrated to us by Champaign’s folklorists, history buffs, anecdotalists, raconteurs, fabulists, and fablers has captured our imagination. Let it be said that the denizens of Champaign know how to spin a yarn and tell a great story. The legend begins with a man named Herman David Walker, whose parents were part of the first wave of immigrants from England who settled the English Prairie in Southern Illinois in the early 1800s.

They put down roots in Albion. “I am laying off a new town to be called Albion. It will contain eight streets and a public square. Most likely it will be the county town, and if so there will be a court house and a gaol,” a civil engineer wrote from the English Prairie on October 30, 1818. Herman Walker found the solitude of the English Prairie which had birthed him disquieting . He yearned for the bright lights of a big city.

In 1851, the Illinois Central Railroad began grand scale construction of railroad projects in what is today’s Champaign-Urbana. Land speculators and merchants descended on the area for business opportunities. By 1890s, after losing money in several bad investments and stumbling from failure to failure, Herman Walker invested his last $200 in a fish and chip restaurant—he was English after all—at 201 N. Neil Street.

Grandfather Herman Walker with his wife Eulalie and Maximilian, (Hamilton Walker's father) in front of their restaurant, 1890's

The shop was inherited by Herman’s only son, Maximilian, whom he named, for some confounding reason, after the Emperor of Mexico.  Maximilian and his wife, Marion had one child—Hamilton Walker, born July 4th, 1917.

Hamilton Walker at home with his parents, Maximilian and Marion, early 1920's

Hamilton grew up in Champaign in the 1920s and had an idyllic childhood centered around school, sports, family, church, and the fish and chip shop. 

Hamilton Walker's third grade class picture

Hamilton Walker with his high school football team

By his teen years, Hamilton hit his stride and became a popular young man. It is clear by all accounts, including the foremost authority on the Hamilton Walker legend, Eric Feltman, that Hamilton was a charismatic man. “Men wanted to be like him, and women couldn’t stay away from him,” Feltman said.

Young Hamilton Walker cutting a rug, mid 1930's

Young Hamilton Walker during his New York visit, late 1930's

A few weeks after his 25th birthday, Hamilton began the first of four tours of duty in World War 2, fighting first in Italy with the British Forces, then in France, and finally in Germany.

Hamilton Walker on leave, 1942

A decorated officer, LTC Walker returned to Champaign after the war, a man of the world with exquisite acquired tastes.

The wanderlust that he had cultivated in Europe soon propelled him to Hollywood, where he worked as a military advisor to film directors making war movies. 

Walker returned to Champaign a few years later and set to work to establish a fine dining restaurant and speakeasy. He called it Hamilton Walker’s. It was the embodiment of his style—worldly, cultivated, Hollywood, all-American, timeless, classic.

Hamilton Walker early 1950's in Chicago

Welcome to the new Hamilton Walker’s, a tribute to all good things Champaign, all great things American. 

FAIR USE AND CONTENT DISCLAIMER

FAIR USE NOTICE

This document contains historical images known to be in the public domain, and possible copyrighted material for which copyright owners cannot be found. We are using this material as illustrations to advance understanding of local history of Champaign, Illinois and American History from 1800s to 1950s. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this document is distributed without profit to those with an interest in the information for research and educational purposes.

For more information go to: http://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.   In the event of documented copyright ownership of any of these historical images, please contact gm@hamiltonwalkers.com.