The owners behind Pilsen Yards don’t lack ambition, and they’ve added a huge upgrade to their new patio which opens on January 15. Indoor serving won’t happen until later this year, but as the pandemic keeps diners outdoors in Chicago, Pilsen Yards is banking on radiant heated floors to keep customers warm. Temperatures regulated by the heated floors hoover in the mid-60s, averaging about 40 degrees warmer than the actual outdoor temperature.
“The goal is to be the safest, warmest, coolest patio in Chicago,” owner Paul Abu-Taleb says.
Abu-Taleb’s family runs Pizza Capri locations in Hyde Park and Lincoln Park, and Maya Del Sol in Oak Park (that’s the suburb that calls Paul’s father, Anan Abu-Taleb, mayor). The younger Abu-Taleb says they’ve also installed heated floors at their Oak Park restaurant. He’s fortunate to have the resources and time to make changes — Pilsen Yards’ pivot actually came in January 2020 when Abu-Taleb closed the previous restaurant on the site, Monnie Burke’s. This reboot has been months in the making and they’ve tinkered with concepts wanting to give Pilsen a comfortable space that’s actually worth leaving home to visit.
Pilsen Yards was supposed to open in November, but the pandemic pushed plans as indoor dining was suspended on October 30 in Chicago. In the interim, the space has hosted art shows to remind the community that they still exist.
“With the temperatures dropping, and a huge surge of cases, we wanted to kind of collect ourselves and determine the best way forward,” Abu-Taleb says.
Restaurant operators across the city and state hold different interpretations of COVID-19 safety mandates from the government. Some patio set ups barely differ from dining indoors, as owners elect to ignore rules requiring tents to have one open side. Somtimes they barely crack retractable roofs. But for all the yurts and dining domes that have popped around town, health experts have doubts.
“It’s really challenging to make a tent compelling,” Abu-Taleb says.
Pilsen Yards’ patio does have a covered roof, and typically, it could seat 80 outdoors; social distance rules cut that to around 50. They’ll open with a scaled back menu and drinks, slowly expanding as they test out customer habits during a pandemic. Part of the indoor space is dedicated to a cocktail lounge called the Alderman. Mixing those drinks is more invovled, and there’s no need to risk contamination. The Alderman’s drinks won’t be served on the patio and they’ll debut when the bar opens indoors later in 2021. To start, Pilsen Yards servers will offer customers packaged beers and draft cocktails.
“The No. 1 thing is not only creating a safe space for our guests, but also for our staff,” Abu-Taleb says.
Abu-Taleb says he feels there’s a demand for outdoor seating during the pandemic. It could be a while until indoor dining, even at a reduced capacity, returns.
“We’ve all had a rough year, but people still need an outlet,” Abu-Taleb says. “People still need connection — more so now than ever before. We also believe that people genuinely miss restaurants, especially the feel of a restaurant, so we wanted to create something that has a distinct mood and energy to it. We still owe the guest an atmosphere.”
The state requires reservations for all patio spaces during the pandemic and customers can secure tables at Pilsen Yards right now. Come back for more coverage as opening day approaches.
Pilsen Yards, 1163 W. 18th Street, scheduled to open January 15.