One of Chicago restaurants’ least-guarded secrets is coming to fruition as after 41 years, Carson’s, The Place For Ribs will finally close its venerable River North location on Monday night to pack up and move to a new flagship restaurant space in River East. Dean Carson has been reluctant to announce the move since Carson’s took over the former Quay space at the River East Arts Center, 465 E. Illinois Street, in March near Navy Pier. A real estate transaction delayed the announcement — a developer intends to build a high-rise building on top of the restaurant at Wells and Ontario.
Reached Wednesday morning, Carson said he felt melancholy about the move as there are a lot of memories inside. “I’ve built an odd connection with the space,” Carson said. All of his current employees are making the move. Carson mentioned a spry 83-year-old waitress who’s been working at Carson’s for the past four decades. Carson said “at least 10” employees have been with Carson’s since the start and they’re all coming to Streeterville. They’ll have to bulk up staff — they’re adding bartenders — at the new location which is larger and offers views of Lake Michigan. They’ve gutted the space, added two bars, and an all-seasons patio space that’s covered. They’ll be able to fit about 100 outside and little under 200 indoors.
“It’s really a cool kind of spot,” said Carson who wants to modernize his company. While other Carson’s locations have offered outdoor space, “this is the first one with a view.”
The Carson’s chain, founded in 1977, became an iconic spot for barbecue baby back ribs over the years with multiple locations including suburban restaurants and restaurants in Miami, Phoenix, and Milwaukee. Celebrities would dine at the River North location, and the restaurant has the autographed photos hanging on their walls to prove it. They’ll make the journey to the new space, Carson said. However, he is worried that younger customers may not be able to identify some of the older celebrities. Take Red Skelton, a comedian and actor whose career spanned the 30s through the 70s. Carson remembers Skelton drawing a sketch on a photo at the restaurant. The photo was proudly hung on the wall but was stolen by a customer.
“That’s when I started to nail photos to the wall,” Carson said with a laugh.
The final weekend of service in River North should provide memorable meals, Carson said. He looks forward to buying drinks or appetizers for regulars the entire weekend as they say goodbye to the space.
“It will be a special dinner for them,” Carson said.
The Tribune first reported the story.