Since closing in January, the owners of Monnie Burke’s in Pilsen have been working on a replacement restaurant along 18th Street in their quest to prove to locals that they can run a successful restaurant in the neighborhood. In November, they’ll open a new restaurant called Pilsen Yards with a social-distant spaced back patio, along with a speakeasy-style bar in the main space called the Alderman. The project is from the Abu-Taleb family, the owners of Pizza Capri — a pizzeria with locations in Hyde Park and Lincoln Park.
Pilsen Yards refers to an old lumber distribution center at 18th and Blue Island, then the largest in the world. The restaurant uses wood salvaged from when the center was in its heyday in the early 20th Century. Folks unfamiliar with the historical link may mistakenly connect the name with Lincoln Yards, a controversial North Side project. That’s not the Abu-Talebs’ intentions in Pilsen, a neighborhood where some locals worry about gentrification pushing them out of the area.
“We want something that has just a good feel, where you can afford to be several days a week,” Paul Abu-Taleb says. “The price point is very important to us.”
Most of the Latin street food items from chef Armando Gonzalez (Amerikas, Libertad) are under $10. Abu-Taleb is fond of the fried fish taco made with corn tortillas. The whitefish has a tempura crunch. Customers should also expect mariscos and cazuelas.
“My view is a lot of great food and great drinks have been put in a suit and tie,” Abu-Taleb says. “We just prefer denim.”
They’ve also made changes inside creating a speakeasy-style cocktail bar inside the dining room. The bar is called the Alderman, and construction crews have built walls to separate it from the restaurant. Abu-Taleb says the space has about 16 seats. It’s supposed to be more intimate, serving customers intricately prepared drinks that take longer to mix. It’s more Billy Sunday (the Logan Square cocktail bar) than the Aviary (the pricey cocktail bar run by the Alinea Group in Fulton Market), Abu-Taleb says.
The Alderman’s cocktails will be exclusive to the space and won’t be available to go. A few cocktails on the Pilsen Yards side will be, says Abu-Taleb. The Alderman’s drink menu features 18 specialty cocktails from beverage director Lance Bowman who filled the same role for Monnie Burke’s. Classic drinks will join seven tea cocktails like “the Conundrum” with brown butter Woodford Reserve, chai vermouth, Barolo Chinato, amaro vecchio del capo, and bitters.
Music will also be a big component of the space. DJs will spin vinyl on weekends, and local musicians will perform. Abu-Taleb feels confident that Pilsen Yards will succeed in ways Monnie Burke’s didn’t. He also says that closing in January gave them a head start in pivoting. Restaurants across the country have shifted business strategies to survive during the pandemic. Abu-Taleb says closing kept his staff out of danger. Most of them live nearby, and Abu-Taleb wants to make sure the public knows he’s hiring local for the new restaurant.
If the last name is familiar, Paul Abu-Taleb’s father, Anan Abu-Taleb, is the mayor of suburban Oak Park. The family also owns a Mexican restaurant, Maya del Sol, in Oak Park. Paul Abu-Taleb knows that not everyone is ready for indoor dining or drinking at bar, but he vows to take safety seriously.
“We’re a small business, family run, and children of immigrants ourselves,” says Paul Abu-Taleb. “We’re here to invest in the community and be popular in this community. We’re not here for a quick buck.”
Pilsen Yards, 1163 W. 18th Street, scheduled to open November 6. Alderman to open later that month.