The new owners of the Happy Village, a 55-year-old Ukrainian Village dive bar with a popular patio, want to give regulars one last summer fling before they remodel the landmarked space into a gastropub. The new owners, a recently formed small restaurant and bar company called Out to Lunch Hospitality, took over the space on April 3 from the bar’s former owner Cherlyn Pilch. Out to Lunch kept the bar the same until this week when it closed to make various changes. They’ll reopen it on Saturday with new cocktails and alterations to the patio.
Change has come slow for Happy Village, hidden between Division and Augusta on Wolcott on a quiet tree-lined street in a section of the neighborhood called East Village. This wasn’t Pilch’s first attempt at selling the bar. The sale was unique as it needed community approval as the bar is landmarked.
Of all the proposed changes, this appears the most drastic. The bar will operate with these changes in place for about six months, said Out to Lunch’s Andrew Miller. They’ll close the bar and engage in a major renovation plan sometime this fall. Those $3 million plans, detailed here, will also add a restaurant component to the space.
Happy Village kept three of the bar’s old employees, Miller said. The other staff left on their own, Miller said, as the buffer period between April 3 and this week was meant to give workers time to decide if they wanted to remain at the bar. Ownership tried to take a delicate approach. Happy Village has many loyal regular customers who enjoyed the shot and beer establishment. But Miller said the bar needed changes to keep up with the neighborhood changing demographics with more families.
Miller wanted to respect the work staff; there’s the recent case of the Gold Star Bar, the dive just around the corner from Happy Village on Division Street. A few months after an ownership change, Gold Star’s staff was fired via text message.
“I didn’t want that to be written about me,” Miller said.
The next six months or so, Miller said, are about allowing customers to say goodbye to the bar while introducing the space to families and 30 somethings who are new to the area, the type who may want a solid cocktail or a glass of wine, Miller said. Out to Lunch’s beverage director Miranda Breedlove (Bad Hunter, Sportsman’s Club) is adding new cocktails including an Aperol spritz that should quench thirsts on sultry summer days on the patio. It will be on special for $5 on Saturdays and Sundays. They’ll also upgrade the liquor selection and mixers and start using fresh juices and syrups made at the bar. Breedlove said they’re not going to have a formal drink menu, but the bartenders will now be better versed at making classic cocktails — even daiquiris. Most dive bars don’t have much in terms of proper cocktail glassware. Happy Village customers will now get their drinks in new glasses.
Cheap shots and canned beer will still be available. Customers could still saddle up to the bar and order a can of $2 Hamm’s: “We’re not going bougie,” Miller said. The patio’s koi fish pond will remain, but there will be some new outdoor furniture. The tent that protects customers from rain will be replaced by numerous umbrellas.
Besides Happy Village, Out to Lunch is working on Good Fortune, a seafood-focused restaurant that should soon open in a few weeks. There’s also X, a Logan Square bar that should open this year.
Part of the plan for the renovated Happy Village includes demolishing the bar’s game room where its table tennis tables reside. While the remodeled iteration won’t have ping pong, players this summer can grab their paddles and a few Hamm’s for at least one more match at the dive between friends.