The Alley — Lakeview’s long-time punk and goth store that closed last year — is making a comeback with a twist. The first floor of the new store, 3221 N. Clark St., (it’s across the street from the original location) will be a cafe with Dark Matter coffee and food from nearby Lakeview restaurants including pizza from Philly’s Best. Philly’s Best owner Michael Markellos is partnering on this new venture, called The Alley 1776, with Alley owner Mark Thomas.
Thomas was bored after The Alley closed in January 2016 after 40 years of selling leather jackets, gargoyles, and T-shirts in Lakeview. Thomas wanted to reopen, but knew his business model needed to evolve. Shoppers are increasingly buying items online and the kids that drove the punk and goth scenes were grown up. They had less time to buy patches from obscure bands and grow mohawks. Thomas cajoled Markellos into joining him, as Philly’s Best and Gyro-mena (the Greek spot owned by Markellos) are located around the corner. The Alley 1776 won’t be open late, but it’ll also serve alcohol: “You can come in and get a tequila,” Thomas said.
Markellos is mindful of concerns from residents and said they don’t want to be a bar. It’ll have butter coffee, lattes, and other caffeinated beverages.
The new location is a former antique store and the cafe will be on the first floor. There’s not much of a kitchen, which is why Markellos and Thomas want to work with nearby restaurants such as Bamboo Garden, a Chinese restaurant at 3203 N. Clark St. It’ll have baked goods, sandwiches, salads, a private meeting space and WiFi. They’re also tossing around an idea for an unlimited coffee subscription that would cost $66.60 per month. “666” is known as “the mark of the beast,” and a reason Kuma’s Corner opened its second location at 666 W. Diversey Parkway.
They might decorate the room with Rolling Stones or Beatles stuff. Thomas wants to be more mainstream: “We’re more rock than goth,” Thomas said.
It’s curious that The Alley is partnering with Dark Matter, given that the coffee maker’s Osmium Coffee Bar is less-than-a 10-minute walk west. Markellos explained that Dark Matter is excited to have a coffee shop with their drinks east of the Belmont CTA Red/Brown Line stop: “No one walks west to get a cup of coffee,” Thomas added.
The opening will happen in a couple phases. The retail portion will open next week and they’ll give away free coffee as they await their food licenses. After they secure the OKs from the city, they’ll close for about two weeks and finish work on the cafe before reopening to serve food and drink. The two floors takes up 2,800 square feet with 1,900 square feet on the first floor.
At the new Alley, a customer can order and drink their cup of coffee while store staff readies a custom T-Shirt. It’s more of an experience than just ordering something online, Thomas said. Cashing in on counter culture is big in the restaurant business. The Riot Feast is attempting to lure punkers over at their Wicker Park pop-up. The Alley is hoping some of the magic rubs off on them, and they’re even giving away tickets to Riot Fest (the festival, not the pop-up) to entice people to stop by.
Back in The Alley’s heyday, youngsters would congregate near the Dunkin’ Donuts (nicknamed Punkin’ Donuts) parking lot on the northwest corner of Belmont and Clark. That space is now a Target, to channel Social Distortion’s Story of My Life. However, Thomas and Markellos want to give those grown-up (and hopefully employed) loiterers a place to hang out.
“We’re going to try to be different,” Thomas said.