For more than a decade, the owners of Gemini have lovingly admired the Irish tavern across the street.
Four Farthings Tavern & Grill, which opened in 1963, took its name from Lord of the Rings and represented a particular type of Chicago bar, one with odes to Ireland, a full menu of ribs and chops, and a private room for parties. The last few years have seen the bars around Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park turn over. Gamekeepers, Stanley’s Tap, and Sedgwick’s have long departed.
During the pandemic, Four Farthings, which had passed hands a few times over the years, also called it quits. That provided the owners of Gemini, Ballyhoo Hospitality, an opportunity. Founder Ryan O’Donnell and company have been running Gemini for 13 years, and in 2017 they renovated, showing the Lincoln Park community they wanted to stay even as other businesses turned over.
“When are you taking it over?” O’Donnell recalls customers asking him. “Why can’t you do something there?
“Trust me I want to, and hopefully I will someday.”
Ballyhoo had to wait a dozen years, but finally struck an agreement to lease the creaky space on the corner of Lincoln, Cleveland, and Dickens. Ballyhoo plans on opening DeNuccis in late spring or early summer at 503 W. Dickens Avenue (crews moved the entrance from Cleveland, hence the new address). O’Donnell describes the new venture as an “Italian Gemini.” He sees an absence of red sauce Italian restaurants in the neighborhood and wants to bring New Jersey and New York vibes to the menu, as opposed to the European focus at Ballyhoo’s Lakeview restaurant, Coda di Volpe.
In January, Ballyhoo opened Pizza by Sal in suburban Wilmette, a pizzeria with two main pies. The main style is a 16-inch pie is a bit reminiscent of big and floppy New York-style pizzas with a modern edge. They’re bringing the same pizza to Lincoln Park. There’s also a Sicilian gluten-free pie that pizzaiolo Salvadore “Sal” Lo Cascio is quite proud of creating. Lo Cascio, who worked at Forno Rosso — one of the city’s premier Neopolitan pizza makers — also created the pies for Coda di Volpe.
But while DeNuccis is near Lincoln Park High School this isn’t a student’s after-school hangout. Like Gemini, the new restaurant will be family-friendly, but there’s a bar and elements aimed at a more adult crowd with chicken and veal in either Piccata. Marsala, or parmigiano. While pasta won’t be made on premises, O’Donnell says they’ll find the best dried pasta available for an impressive variety of family-style offerings. O’Donnell is excited about the Sunday gravy with meatballs.
They plan on serving dinner seven days a week and weekend lunch: “We’ll let Gemini deal with the brunch crowd,” O’Donnell says.
Gemini opened in 2009 and has developed into a prototype Chicago neighborhood restaurant with a core group of loyal customers. While O’Donnell won’t share how much they invested into the remodel, he says crews gutted the space. Besides the new entrance, they added a takeout window — but they still saved the bar’s old millwork. The bar top’s made of stone quartz. A 96-seat patio will also debut along Cleveland and Dickens: “We definitely improved the owner’s building and added a lot of value in what we did,” O’Donnell says.
Ballyhoo has focused on the suburbs (Sophia Steak, Pomeroy, Buck Russell’s) since the pandemic but has collaborated on one of the city’s biggest openings, Andros Taverna in Logan Square. O’Donnell admits that he’d “be lying if I said I wasn’t scared or anxious about it.”
He says the pandemic conditions forced Ballyhoo to work smarter and rethink how it operate. DeNuccis represents a step forward, and he’s hopeful Lincoln Park appreciates their investment.
DeNuccis, 503 W. Dickens Avenue, scheduled for a late spring or summer opening.