Chicago’s Polonia Ballroom and Grove
50 Years Later
During a recent performance in Chicago with my band, it struck me the stage we were playing on was the very same stage that showcased polka bands for the past eight decades. This, on its own merit, is one thing, but with deeper thought I realized the stage, large hall, building and — most notably — the owner Mrs. Marge Machay, has been the catalyst and driving force behind this Chicago polka hot spot for 50 consecutive years.
In 1964, a young couple, each barely 21-years of age, planned their wedding day and the beginning of their life together as they took on the task and purchased “Polonia Ballroom, Grove & Lounge” from the former proprietor, the late Ed Zimmerly. The aspiring newlyweds were Chuck and Marge Machay.
Chuck Machay was a polka ambassador to bands, fans, and promoters, not only in and around Chicago, but from around the United States. To polka fans from out-of-town, Polonia Grove (as it was known at that time), was a place where they could see more polka bands from across the United States and Canada than anywhere else. It was “the place to play” and be recognized and (hopefully) glorified for Chicago polka legends, East Coast legends, and Midwest Polka Kings. It was “the cat’s meow.”
Among those who graced the grove were: Li’l Wally, Marion Lush, Happy Louie, the Connecticut Twins, Eddie Blazonczyk, Chet Kowalkowski & the Versatile Versatones, The Ampol-Aires, the Ray Budzilek Orchestra, Eddie Zima, the Naturals, Chicago’s Hi-Notes, Gene Wisniewski, Eddie Cnota’s C-Notes, and Wanda & Stephanie. The list continues on and on, seemingly with no end. It would be close to impossible to name them all.
The Polonia name is synonymous with polka music in Chicago, and is imbedded in the music’s culture. The fabulous Ampol-Aires Orchestra featured a photograph of the famous marquee of Polonia Ballroom on one of their LP albums. Marion Lush named a song after Polonia, and so did Li’l Wally. Eddie Blazonczyk named a song after Polonia’s address “4604,” and that list still grows. The late Chet Gulinski, popular Chicago disc jockey and record producer, named Polonia Ballroom as the “Hub of Polka Activity” in Chicagoland. Polonia Grove was once the site for Eddie Blazonczyk’s weekend-long “Bel-Aire Polka Days,” and also the site for the “International Polka Convention,” an event ran by the IPC before it became the IPA (International Polka Association).
In the 1970s, the Machays made a huge decision, and closed the grove to better accommodate parking facilities for its patrons and banquet center. Its name was later changed to Polonia Banquets when the Machays initiated a major renovation to broaden their business and to better facilitate the public.
The untimely death of Chuck Machay in 1987 created sadness and heavy hearts to all who knew him. To the benefit of all, his legacy of hard work, perseverance, and vision was passed on to his family. Polonia Banquets today is still privately owned and managed by his widow Marge Machay and her family, and they continue to promote and feature polka music. Their facility has featured more polka bands from in and around Chicago, the East coast, and Midwest than most popular venues.
What a heritage! Polonia Banquets remains at its original location at 4604 South Archer Ave. near Chicago’s Midway Airport. For 50 years it continues under the most capable direction of Marge Machay and the Machay family, proudly carrying on the tradition of excellent banquets, special occasions and— yes — polka dances. They have expanded into new areas with Polonia Catering, which is operated by Marge’s son, Brian Machay. That firm is now a household name for parties and banquets in suburban Chicago.
Speaking for all in the polka community, we thank you, Marge, for all you have done to promote our music and traditions. May God bless you and your family with many more years of success.
By Lenny Gomulka
Chicago native Lenny Gomulka is an award-winning polka artist and leader of the Chicago Push band. In addition to appearances at Polonia Grove and Polonia Banquets with his own group, he has performed at these venues with the Versatones, Li’l Wally, Marion Lush, and numerous other bands.