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Boathouse Cafe Plans to Set Sail in Spring Inside Humboldt Park

Owners have five-year deal with park district for full-service restaurant.

Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

While training for a marathon, Erica Serrano would run by and notice dog walkers and others inside Humboldt Park holding coffee.

"I wondered all the time where the coffee came from," Serrano said.

That mystery drove Serrano, as providing Humboldt Park patrons with food and drink is a dream of her's, a dream that's coming closer to reality. Along with partner Silvana Botero, the two have plans for the Boathouse Cafe, a full-service restaurant that's slated for a late-spring opening inside the Chicago Park District's boathouse at Humboldt Park. They'll serve liquor and utilize a patio of 130 outdoor seats and 30 indoors seats at a 3,300-square-foot space.

City officials in 1996 named the 108-year-old Boathouse Pavilion itself a Chicago Landmark. The restaurant appears to be set inside the boathouse gallery and would be open year-round. Serrano and Botero have a five-year contract with the park district. It's a deal with the government for a public space similar to Castaways at North Avenue Beach and the Park Grill at Millennium Park. Though, the pact's not as controversial as the latter.

The Boathouse Cafe will feature sandwiches, Metropolis Coffee, pastries and sharable dishes. The interior is a vintage nautical theme with portraits of Alexander von Humboldt, the park's namesake. Serrano wants to educate Chicagoans about the park's history while serving "comfortable and delicious food."

Serrano is a Humboldt Park native and is excited to open a restaurant in what amounts to her backyard. She grew up in the restaurant business, as her father was in the industry. Serrano applied for the license with the park district for the restaurant four years ago. Botero, likewise, is a veteran of the industry, and the pair met two years ago while Botero was working for Serrano's father.

What would happen to the cafe every year when Riot Fest storms through Humboldt isn't certain. Serrano isn't sure if the cafe will close for the weekend during the punk rock bacchanalia or open their business as an alternative to the food vendors the festival brings with them.