After two decades in business, Bistrot Zinc owners have told staff they are closing the longtime Gold Coast French restaurant, an employee says. Owner Casey Eslick plans on shuttering the restaurant at the end of August. She told workers she’s decided not to renew the lease at 1131 N. State Street.
Eslick began including the cards in customers’ checks informing them of her decision. At 67, without the benefit of the fountain of youth or “a speck of fairy dust” it was time to close the restaurant, she told Eater Chicago. The restaurant continued to be profitable.
“It’s been a very hard decision,” Eslick said. “It’s been the best 20 years of my life.”
Bistrot Zinc’s been around Chicago before the Gold Coast incarnation. Eslick opened the first Bistrot Zinc in 1996 in Lakeview and two years later she opened the Gold Coast location. Friday, August 31 will be the restaurant’s last day of service. The restaurant’s 47 employees will have a better chance of finding new jobs before the holidays, Eslick said.
Walking into Bistrot Zinc is like entering a time capsule, a darling dining space featuring plenty of Parisian influences. Despite the digital revolution, customers can still find a newspaper rack to the right of the bar. The neighborhood restaurant became a favorite for lunch and dinner. The menu is headlined by classic French onion soup and roast chicken.
Eslick talked about how Chicago was a full of mediocre Italian restaurants and that French food is often overlooked. Opening Bistrot Zinc was a response to that. She still feels Chicago’s food media should give French food more coverage. Gold Coast draws its share of tourists, and Bistrot Zinc benefits when French travelers need a taste of home.
The area around Rush and Division, where Bistrot Zinc is situated, has been littered with construction in recent years with several apartment towers going up. Restaurants haven’t seen as much change over. The area lost a Big Bowl from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and Da Lobsta’s lobster rolls after a new building went up at Cedar and State in 2015. It’s been 2 1/2 years since Maple & Ash, the fancy modern steakhouse, opened nearby. Boka Restaurant Group also opened Somerset last year The downtown neighborhood seems in transition. It’s likely too early to think about the future of the Bistrot Zinc space, as it’s unknown if there’s another tenant waiting for the upcoming vacancy.
Market conditions have made it tougher for restaurateurs. She hasn’t had trouble finding cooks, but this year was the first time they struggled hiring dishwashers. Eslick supports an $18 per hour minimum wage, but said that will only happen if all restaurant band together and raise prices by 20 percent to sustain better working conditions.
While there are quality French restaurants like Kiki’s Bistro and Bistronomic nearby, Eslick worried what her and her husband will do after she closes the restaurant. She’s open to suggestions. Her husband has asked “Where the hell are we going to eat?,” Eslick said.
Unlike most shutters, at least customers have plenty of notice. They have three and a half months to plan their visit to Bistrot Zinc and say their goodbyes.