News broke Tuesday that Second City, the comedy club that launched the careers of celebs like Tina Fey, Jordan Peele, and John Candy, is for sale in Old Town. Theater, just like the live music industry, has been decimated this year due to COVID-19. But beyond the theater on North and Wells, the future of Second City’s two restaurants and one bar remains in the balance.
Fifty/50 Restaurant Group operates Utopian Tailgate rooftop bar above the theater and Roots Handmade Pizza on the ground floor next to the theater. Fifty/50 co-founder Scott Weiner says he looks forward to new leadership. Fifty/50 is sticking close to Second City. Weiner says they have an agreement to operate a venue at Second City’s Toronto location.
“We think there’s still a great opportunity for the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group to be part of whatever the future may bring,” Weiner says.
Utopian opened in 2019, and Weiner says it’s been a “banner summer” for the outdoor venue. After closing due to the pandemic Utopian Tailgate reopened in June when the city allowed patio dining and it geared up for the pandemic with several safety precautions.
“Capacity is the only thing that’s held us back,” Weiner says.
Chicago had allowed bars and restaurants to run with a 20-percent capacity, or a maximum of 50 people. Last week, it increased the capacity to 40 percent as colder weather threatens the comfort of outdoor diners. Weiner says he, and his fellow members of the Illinois Restaurant Association, hope the city loosens the 50-person maximum. They want the city’s mandate to match the state’s.
But even though Utopian Tailgate has been success story, Roots has been hurt. Critics single out pizzeria as being a business that’s less vulnerable to dining room restrictions; who doesn’t like enjoying a pizza while dressed in sweats at home? However, without Second City’s crowds going to shows, Roots hasn’t seen the same business Weiner’s company expected when they opened. A carryout-only operation struggles to flourish in this location thanks to pricey Old Town real estate, Weiner says.
The fate of 1959, the third restaurant, is unknown. Fifty/50 was also brought on to run the operation. Unlike Utopian Tailgate and Roots, 1959 would be part of the overall Second City sale. It’s unknown exactly how long it will take to find a new owner. Weiner says it could take six to eight months.
- Chicago’s Second City comedy hub is for sale [Sun-Times]
And in other news...
— Chicago’s beloved fast food chain Portillo’s — a city essential for Italian beef, plus hot dogs, chocolate cake, and more — will open its third Chicago location next month in Avondale, according to a rep. Management plans to open the new spot at 10:30 a.m. on November 2 at 3343 W. Addison Street. For the time being, it’ll offer drive-through, curbside pickup, and delivery, but won’t open for dine-in service until an as-yet-unknown future date.
— Maude’s Liquor Bar, the raucous Randolph Street restaurant and lounge from Au Cheval owner Brendan Sodikoff’s Hogsalt Hospitality group, is permanently closed after nine years, according to a letter posted to the website. The letter, signed by a fictional and eponymous Maude, rebuffs any implication that the closure is a result of the pandemic, saying that it was simply time to move on. Founded in 2011, Maude’s earned legions of fans over the years with a rustic French menu and plentiful cocktails. The bar was temporarily shuttered in March due to the pandemic and stay-at-home order, but reopened in early August with dine-in service, carryout, and delivery. Sodikoff did not immediately respond to a request for more information. Block Club Chicago first reported this closure.
This marks Hogsalt’s third shutter in recent months. His group shut down 21-year-old bar California Clipper and its neighboring coffee shop, C.C. Ferns, in May. At the time, Sodikoff contended that he wasn’t able to come to a rent agreement with former landlord Gino Battaglia to keep the venues open. Battaglia disagreed, claiming that Sodikoff wanted to break the lease, withhold rent, and shut down the bar. By July, Battaglia has filed two lawsuits demanding more than $93,000 in back rent and damages from Sodikoff.
— Gold Coast steakhouse Maple & Ash is adding sushi to its repertoire for the first time, according to a news release. The new offerings are from local sushi chef Hari Chan, who began his career in sushi as a teenager working at Sai Cafe in Lincoln Park. Menu options include sashimi (ahi tuna, hamachi, ora king salmon), King Crab nigiri (drawn butter, miso, crab, caviar, temaki), and Miyazaki nigiri (wagyu, salmon, soy, lime, caviar).
— City officials last week shut down Bucktown’s 1540 Bar & Grill for violating pandemic safety rules like social distancing, exceeding the allowed number of customers, allowing unmasked patrons to wander, and more, according to Block Club Chicago. Co-owners Thomasina Hunt and Clarence Alford told reporters that they’ve hired an attorney and are working with the city to safely reopen, but also voiced concerned that as Black business owners, they are being profiled to a higher degree than white bar owners who also break the rules in neighborhoods like Wrigleyville. Ownership has not yet responded to a request for more information.
— Top Chef and Iron Chef champion Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat) is collaborating with Chicago-based health food vending company Farmer’s Fridge on a limited edition Hong Kong tofu noodle bowl, according to a rep. The vegetarian, gluten-free option includes brown rice noodles, baked five-spice tofu, pickled jalapenos, red onion, edemame, baby bok choy, black sesame seeds, mint, and a sauce made with soy, ginger, garlic, and chilies. The bowl will be available for delivery starting October 14 in Chicago, as well as New York, New Jersey, and Indianapolis. A portion of proceeds will go to Southern Smoke, a crisis relief nonprofit that supports hospitality workers.