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A man lifts a pizza out of an wood-burning oven outside.
The crew from Tripoli Tap has pivoted to pizza.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

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A Boston Sports Bar in Chicago Fires Up a Pizza Oven to Survive

Tripoli Tap hopes to get by with some help from Coalfire and Robert’s Pizza

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When Tripoli Tap chef and co-owner Dean Zanella pitched in to help a longtime friend open his first restaurant in 2014, he didn’t expect anything in return. At the time, he knew John Durning, a pal and former corporate banker, was being pulled in a million directions as he tried to open Pizzeria Deville in suburban Libertyville. So Zanella dropped everything to spend a week getting the pizzeria’s kitchen running smoothly.

Six years later, Zanella — who is working to keep his own bar open and solvent during Illinois’s dine-in closures — was the owner in need of assistance. And there was Durning offering a surprising resource: a mobile wood-fired pizza oven, which is now parked outside Zanella’s Boston sports bar in Lincoln Park. With some extra ingredient help from Coalfire Pizza and Robert’s Pizza Co., Zanella is now offering a brand new pizza menu that he hopes will help the Tripoli Tap survive the dine-in closures.

This is a departure from Tripoli’s normal operations. The bar’s a safe have for sports fans who back Boston-area team like the Patriots and Red Sox. It’s been around, in one form or another, for 16 years.

A man in medical mask works with dough at an outdoor table.
Pizzeria Deville owner John Durning preps dough for wood-fired pizzas.

The pizza collaboration began with a brainstorming session: “Dean has always been kind of a mentor to me, so when he and [business partner] Nico called up and said, ‘Here’s something we’ve been thinking about, what do you think?’” Durning says. “And I was like, ‘Dude, I’ll cancel everything to help you get this done.’”

Durning says he knew it was a good idea when his Fire Within mobile oven, squeezed into Zanella’s designated space by a half inch on either side. He’s used the oven, which sits on top of a trailer and includes a ramp and cooler, to serve events like festivals, private parties, and weddings, for three years. The moveable operation offers flexibility in a way that the small Tripoli space can’t.

A handwritten sign hangs outside a bar.
A man in a fabric face mask ladles sauce onto pizza dough.
A man lifts a pizza out of an wood-burning oven outside. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

In his time of need, Zanella says he’s touched that his friends are now coming through for him. “I can’t express the gratitude I have for everybody who immediately said, ‘Yes, let’s make this work,’” he says. “That seems to be everybody’s attitude right now — willing to pitch in for anything, as long as it’s safe.”

Tripoli sold a dozen pizzas the first night Zanella offered them, and he had more pre-ordered for the next day. “Hopefully we can build this and it can help save our business,” he says. “Like everybody else, we’re struggling right now. I helped to open Robert’s too, so them helping us out right now makes me feel good.”

A man in a medical mask lifts a pizza out of an outdoor oven.
Tripoli Tap has served Lincoln Park for 16 years.

Tripoli Tap, 1147 W. Armitage Avenue, 773-477-4400, Open for pickup orders from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Also available for delivery via Grubhub.

Tripoli Tap

1147 West Armitage, Chicago, IL