EAST VILLAGE — The new owners of beloved neighborhood dive Happy Village are expanding the tavern to the lot next door.
During an East Village Association meeting last week, Happy Village co-owner Andrew Miller said the group is no longer trying to sell the lot next door. Instead, he presented updated renderings of what the restaurant and bar will look like once renovations are complete.
Site plans now include the side parcel of land at 1057 N. Wolcott Ave. (currently Happy Village’s recreation/ping pong room) to become part of the restaurant itself, at 1059 N. Wolcott Ave.
Renovations will not begin until the fall of 2019.
Out to Lunch Hospitality bought the bar and the side lot from longtime owner Cherlyn Pilch on April 3.
The group initially planned to rehabilitate and sell the side lot while expanding restaurant seating upstairs at 1059 N. Wolcott Ave. But zoning rules will not allow the group to sell the side lot, Miller said at last week’s meeting.
So instead of expanding the restaurant upstairs, seating will spill over onto what is now 1057 N. Wolcott Ave. Offices will be housed upstairs above the main part of the restaurant, Miller said.
Out to Lunch bought the building from Pilch for $1.5 million after several months of back-and-forth.
An additional $1.5 million, Miller said in April, is budgeted for renovations that will bring the 1870s-era building “up to city code” and transform the bar into a restaurant.
Because Happy Village lies within an area that is under a liquor moratorium, Out to Lunch could not receive its own liquor license — nor could it purchase Pilch’s license outright — unless Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) moved to lift the moratorium.
Hopkins did not lift the moratorium. So Miller and Pilch worked out a compromise — a “shared management agreement,” which allows Out to Lunch to use Pilch’s license to operate Happy Village as-is until the end of the year, Miller said.
Out to Lunch will then apply for an incidental license — meaning that alcohol sales will be incidental to the restaurant business. Such a license is obtainable in an area under a liquor moratorium.
“If we were ever to sell the property, it’s a restaurant forever,” Miller said at the July East Village Association meeting.
Known for its serene back patio and indoor rec room, Happy Village was founded by Pilch’s parents in 1964 and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.
That was nearly 100 years after the building was first constructed in the 1870s as a “tied house” — a saloon that only carried one specific brewery’s beer — for Chicago-based Peter Hand Brewery.
Nestled within the heart of the quiet, tree-lined East Village neighborhood, the bar began as an all-purpose establishment, Miller said: Polish sausage for lunch, dinner parties in the banquet hall and 7 a.m. whiskey shots for factory workers coming off the graveyard shift.
Happy Village was an important meeting place for the neighborhood during an era when the East Village and Ukrainian Village were populated by Eastern European immigrant families, Miller said in April.
Through the years, the neighborhood changed — and so did Happy Village. At one point, the Pilch family stopped serving restaurant-style food and instead introduced a walk-up hot dog stand. Eventually they stopped food service altogether.
For the past 15 years or so, Miller said, Happy Village has existed as it is today — a low-key, cash-only watering hole with cheap beer and plastic patio chairs, a quintessential “dive” bar. The banquet hall was converted into the ping-pong room.
Under his leadership, Miller said the bar will maintain its current spirit, but will eventually become a neighborhood restaurant once again.
“It was built as a tavern,” Miller said in April. “For us to have the opportunity to buy an old tavern and turn it back into a tavern is incredible.”
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