Live music plan dead at Racine restaurant site
December 6, 2014

A group whose members planned to open a restaurant and nightclub on Racine Avenue has given up on the site, after more than a month of negotiations failed to produce an agreement with a community group and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th
Ward).

Partners in the proposed Club 626 at 626 S. Racine Ave. threw in the towel in November, saying they would look for another site. Ervin had said at a community meeting Sept. 29 that he would not support the club proposal unless it won neighborhood approval; neighbors had opposed the plan at that meeting.

He directed the University Village Association (UVA) to lead the effort to work out plans acceptable to the neighbors, who feared late night noise and congestion. Negotiations broke down in November.

No Community Support

“In its present form, based on community feedback, the proposal for a restaurant at the location of 626 S. Racine does not have community support nor aldermanic support,” Ervin said after the developers withdrew their proposal. “If there are any proposals for a development project presented to my office, my position as alderman is and always has been to bring the proposal to the community for their approval.”

“The UVA is pleased to support our neighbors in this issue, and we look forward to working with the community to find a use for the property that complements the neighborhood,” said the group’s executive director, Kathy Catrambone.

Partners in the venture could not be reached for comment.

They had wanted a restaurant in the main space last occupied by Salatino’s and a lounge where Dough Boys pizzeria was located. The lounge would have had musical entertainment, such as live jazz or DJ-hosted music.

They sought a 2 a.m. license, which would have allowed the club to remain open until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. No restaurant at the site was ever open that late, Catrambone said, so members of her group felt they could not compromise on that point.

Catrambone added that Lamont Bryant Sr., CEO of the potential ownership group and a University of Illinois at Chicago alumnus, and his partners could not specify which days the restaurant would be open late nor what type of music would be played.

Neighbors did not like the plan’s vagueness, she explained. Although Bryant and his partners said they would not operate a sports bar and would not cater to a college crowd, neighbors did not feel assured.

Parking Questions

Bryant and his group arranged for parking directly across Racine in the UIC lot just south of the Pavilion. Residents, however, expressed concern that customers would drive through the neighborhood looking for street parking before opting for the lot.

The UVA had started a petition drive to oppose the club but stopped work on it after Ervin said he opposed the club.

In the meantime, about two blocks away on Taylor Street, an upscale soul food restaurant opened in October. “I have been harassed ever since I have been here,” said Emanuel Washington, chef at Grub Chicago, 1230 W. Taylor. “It is not right.”

Tickets Issued

A neighbor angry about the restaurant told Washington he had police ticket the car belonging to Washington and a motorcycle belonging to an employee, issues Washington was able to resolve.

“I decided to put a restaurant in University Village because I live here,” Washington said, but “I have not received the community support that I had hoped for.”

Most customers are from outside the area, Washington said. He opened Grub after his more than 20-year career as a chef took him away from Chicago to London, Paris, and other cities.

A jazz pianist performed evening sets the weekend of the grand opening Nov. 14-15, while a saxophonist played the following weekend at “kind of an extension of the grand opening” though Washington emphasized, “We are not an entertainment venue; we are a fine-dining restaurant.”

He would like to offer music once or twice a month, “just relaxing” music for “people who are 50 and over like myself,” he said.

— Susan S. Stevens