Sunday will be Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap’s last day of service after 25 years in Lincoln Park. The owners blame a dispute over rent, something that’s been going on for years. Even though the closing date is April 1, this is no April Fool’s joke.
“We never thought when we made the announcement that anyone would make the connection,” said Art Moher, one of Stanley’s investors. “I wish it was a joke.”
The bar/restaurant, 1970 N. Lincoln Avenue, is known for southern cooking and late-night drinks. It’s become a storied spot — it’s hosted the Stanley Cup six times, as Blackhawks players and fans found Stanley’s a comforting spot to party and relax.
Co-founder Donnie Kruse had been unsuccessfully negotiating a new lease with the landlord for the three to four years before his death in March 2017. Management waited for the one-year anniversary of Kruse’s death, March 28, to make the announcement. They didn’t want anything to eclipse Kruse’s memorial: “He was the heart and soul of the place,” Moher said.
Stanley’s employs about 50 people and they’ve been offered employment opportunities within 8 Hospitality Group’s restaurants which include Joy District, LiqrBox, and the former Barn & Company — Old Grounds Social. Carmen Rossi, 8 Hospitality’s founder, is among the investors at Stanley’s. Rossi is helping to lead the search for a new Stanley’s location. They started the search about a month ago, and while Moher prefers to stay in Lincoln Park, the group’s open to other neighborhoods. They hope to find a location soon.
“We’re hoping to be open for another 25 years,” Moher said.
While Moher maintained that business has been level for the last three years, he did acknowledge that the surrounding area has changed. The single customers who were in their mid-20s are now married with children. That’s affected bars like Stanley’s, Gamekeepers, and Four Farthings Tavern. They have fewer customers who would stop by after work for a drink and takeout.
Before Stanley’s opened, the space housed Jim McMahon’s, a short-lived restaurant co-owned by the “Punky QB.” Jim McMahon was the starting quarterback on the Bears’ only Super Bowl champion team. Prior to that, it was a Mexican restaurant — La Hacienda Del Sol. That’s also the name of the management team which owns the building. Moher reiterated that he believes Stanley’s was paying rent more than twice the amount compared to nearby restaurants. He worries that Stanley’s departure will cause a ripple effect and landlords will begin charging those restaurants higher rents too. That could lead to more shutters to rapidly change the neighborhood even more.
Would Stanley’s be in the same situation if Kruse was still around? Moher isn’t sure. But he said it wouldn’t hurt to be able to still have his friend at his side.
“He was a marketing genius and had a great vision,” Moher said. “He may have been able to help us find a new spot earlier than expect and help negotiate a smoother transition.”