John Barleycorn, or Barleycorn’s as it came to be known, opened in 1963 in the shadow of Children’s Memorial Hospital. Infamous for the building’s history as a speakeasy during Prohibition, gangster John Dillinger used to frequent the space, blocks from where federal agents shot him.
Apart from the building’s history, the bar would gain a reputation beyond its original utility as a cheap burger spot, morphing into a nightlife hotspot at sunset, a gathering hub for Big Ten college grads in their early 20s along a Lincoln Avenue crowded with bars. Many city dwellers with suburban friends spending a weekend night in the big city could bank on Barleycorn to entertain.
An underrated aspect of the venue was its patio off Belden. Barleycorn was Sam Sanchez’s first restaurant and he says Lincoln Parkers could pick his bar or Ranalli’s for outdoor seating. Barleycorn would expand to four locations, including in Wrigleyville. The bar is named for an English and Scottish folk song. Sanchez, a successful restaurant owner and an active member in the Illinois Restaurant Association, says Barleycorn was a big Michigan State University bar with many grads working there.
But nothing can endure. Sanchez says he knew it was time to flip the page he asked people in line along Clark Street outside a rival Wrigleyville bar why they weren’t going to Barleycorn around 2010. Their answer? Barleycorn’s was for old people: “You’re killing me,” Sanchez says.
And so, the end was near for Barleycorn. Lincoln Park was already changing with the hospital moving to Streeterville in 2012 to become Lurie’s Children’s Hospital. Sanchez closed the bar in 2014 and sold the building. It’s remained vacant for nine years, trapped in a legal battle and collecting cobwebs. Sanchez says attorneys finally wrapped up litigation about 18 months ago.
With the building clear of legal woes, it presented an opportunity for the owner of Bad Apple, the popular burger bar in North Center. Owner Kevin O’Hare took over the space and says he plans on opening a second Bad Apple this fall. The 80-seat patio will once more roar, albeit at a lower decibel level versus Barelycorn’s raucous times.
The new Bad Apple will also serve new specials. O’Hare is excited about the Abe Froman, a tribute to the Sausage King of Chicago from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s served with spicy Italian sausage, giardiniera, pulled pork, and a spicy barbecue sauce. The draft list will include more than 50 beers with around 135 total, counting bottles and cans. Expect a large selection of whisky and mead, plus specialty cocktails. The new Bad Apple will feature a larger menu. There’s poutine, flatbreads, and more appetizers. The original Bad Apple isn’t going anywhere, O’Hare says.
O’Hare says this stretch of Lincoln Park near DePaul University, reminds him of North Center, packed with families and loyal customers who won’t mind paying $20 for a gourmet burger especially if it’s aged wagyu sourced from famed New York butcher Pat LaFrida. Bad Apple, which opened in 2009, had a reputation for gourmet burgers and a deep beer list.
The second floor will contain a 6,800-square-foot dining room and seating for 140 including 25 at the bar. There’s also an events space with room for 125. They’ve gutted the space and relocated the bathrooms from the second floor to the first: “There’s nothing left of the old John Barleycorn other than the shell,” O’Hare says, later correcting himself saying they’ve saved the old stained glass.
The building’s history is fitting. O’Hare’s family is from Frankenmuth, Michigan (known for its year-round Christmas store). When they served beer to customers in 1930, three years before Prohibition’s repeal, federal agents caught them. The Zehnders were assessed a $5,000 fine, the most expensive of the era, as legend remembers it.
Rehabbing a building decades old means they’re bound to find surprises. They aren’t any vintage cases of Zima or wine coolers. But O’Hare says his team did find a full suit of Medieval-style armor. He did not speculate on its prior use.
Sanchez says he’s happy that O’Hare is taking over the space. He makes one request: He wants O’Hare to hoist the American flag on top of the building just like Barleycorn’s staff did. And as far as Barleycorn, don’t rule out a comeback. Sanchez says he wanted to take over the Emmit’s Irish Pub in River West, but Boka’s Rob Katz beat him to the punch.
Bad Apple Lincoln Park, 658 W. Belden Avenue, planned for an October opening.