John Barleycorn just doesn't have as much cache among millennials and next month the bar will vacate River North. Ownership will keep the space and convert it into an Old Crow Smokehouse, a sibling to the country music-themed Wrigleyville barbecue joint. But bros and trixies, fret not — the neighboring Barleycorn on Clark will remain open near Wrigley Field.
Owner Sam Sanchez said the "bittersweet" move will help his company more easily expand nationally. The Barleycorn name, once synonymous with nightlife for recent college grads, has grown stale. Sanchez sees the live country music and barbecue at Old Crow being trendy with more of a mass appeal. Sanchez and company have been working toward expansion outside of Chicagoland for 18 years, first trying with Barleycorn and their Moe's Cantina concepts, but they never caught on. Old Crow — with barbecue from executive chef Tony Scruggs, who broke through in 2011 on the second season of "MasterChef" — has a chance, Sanchez reasoned.
But the shutter is still emotional for Sanchez, who recalled Barleycorn's glory days. "It was a huge sacrifice," Sanchez said of the decision to close Barleycorn. "It's emotional for us, but to build a franchise we need a key location in River North."
A more prominent location like River North will allow him to better convince investors. He's got plans for Old Crows in Huntington Beach, Calif. and Anaheim, Calif., as well as Cincinnati.
At its peak, Barleycorn also had locations in Lincoln Park and suburban Schaumburg. The Schaumburg space was sold and will become a Punch Bowl Social. The old Lincoln Park space has stood dormant since last year, and Sanchez sold the spot earlier this year to Oculus Development. It's unknown what's in store for the space at the corner of Lincoln and Belden avenues.
Meanwhile, the River North incarnation of Old Crow will mimic the original location in terms of looks. It will occupy the main floor and lower level of the building with Tunnel Night Club continuing to operate above. The second floor of space will be reserved for private events while first-floor construction continues.