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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

The Abbey Is Coming Back Years After Fire Forced Its Closure — But The Pub’s Longtime Owners Have Nothing To Do With It

While the heartbroken Looney family fights to get their business back in court, a new group of owners plans to reopen the Irving Park staple as "The Chicago Abbey."

Construction work at The Abbey Pub on Monday.
Alex v. hernandez/block club chicago
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IRVING PARK — The Abbey Pub as most of Chicago knows it closed in 2015 after a fire. A new Abbey is slated to open in the same location soon, but the family who owned the bar for three decades — now entrenched in a legal battle with their landlord — won’t be the ones reopening it.

Since 1984, the Looney family has run The Abbey, an Irving Park staple at 3420 W. Grace St. The bar was featured on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” in 2011, which led to a revamped menu and new outlook on the business, but a 2015 fire ended up being a major setback and led to a lawsuit with the building’s owner. Now, as the Looneys are duking it out in court, a new group of owners are working to open a bar called the Chicago Abbey in its place.

Credit: Alex Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
The Abbey was undergoing renovations by new ownership last week.

After the fire, Patrick Looney said the family began demolishing the damaged interior of the bar with plans to rebuild it so the bar could reopen. But when they asked the building’s owners, Windy City RE LLC, to cover part of the repairs, the landlord told the family they were asking too much, Patrick Looney said. The Looneys and the landlord then began negotiating.

“We asked for $500,000 and they offered us $250,000. It wasn’t enough to reopen. Then they offered $300,000,” Patrick Looney said.

While they were still negotiating, Looney said, the landlord terminated the Looneys’ lease on the space in March 2017. That’s when they sued.

The lawsuit they filed claims Windy City RE, run by CEO Milan Rubenstein, broke an agreement to allow the Looney family to rebuild their business by kicking them out and finding a new tenant to run The Abbey Pub.

While the Looneys’ lawsuit continues, a group of new owners made plans to take over the bar and music venue. Wally Halit, who is part of the team who will open the Chicago Abbey, plans to open the bar later this year.

“The concept will be similar to what was here in the past but a little more modern,” Halit said.

Halit declined to share more details, but said when construction is done the business will once again feature a stage for live music. 

According to a countdown clock on the new Chicago Abbey website, the venue will open in 74 days.

The Abbey Pub before a fire closed the business in 2015.

Meanwhile, Patrick Looney said his family still hopes to win in court, allowing them to reopen the bar they poured so much of their lives into.

The Looneys, who previously owned the building, sold it to Windy City RE in June 2015, five months before the fire, said Patrick Looney. As a condition of the building’s sale, the Looney family entered into a 10-year lease to keep running the Abbey, with an option of extending the lease for two additional five-year periods, according to the lawsuit.

But after much back-and-forth with the landlord over the costs of fire repairs, Windy City RE told the Looney family their lease was being terminated “due to the fire and lack of occupancy” and the firm was going to start showing the property to other potential tenants in order to “bring in income” for the firm’s investors, the complaint states.

Lawyers for the landlord said they never agreed to forgo rent until the property was restored, according to a countersuit filed March 9, 2018. 

A business card for the new Chicago Abbey

The family was last in court on Aug. 2 for the matter, making it more surprising to the Looney family that Halit wants to use the Abbey name to reopen the space.

“It’s pretty upsetting they’re using ‘Chicago Abbey’ for the name,” Looney said. “Especially for my parents. People have been contacting them because they think it’s us who are reopening. But it’s not us.”

Ajay Harding, one of the new owners of Chicago Abbey, said he was “vaguely aware” of the battle between the Looney family and the building’s landlord when they decided to open the business.

“I’m not really aware of all the details on that side of things,” Harding said. “Our plan is to open, but I think there is some unfinished business between those two other parties. … I’m just hoping that we can move forward and we can open at some point.”

Neither Harding nor Halit would say why they decided to open using the Abbey name, but Harding said there is a need for something to open in the long-vacant space.

“I think the community wants it to open back up,” he said. “There’s nothing else like it in that area. I think the community is for it but they aren’t too enveloped in the ongoing litigation details. I think the neighborhood just wants their neighborhood venue back.”

Credit: GoFundMe
Tom Sr. and Bridget Looney

The Looney family, especially Patrick’s mom and dad, Tom Sr. and Bridget Looney, continue to be heartbroken about what happened to their beloved business.

“The building owners reached out to us a month ago asking for mediation. We couldn’t understand why but now we might: It’s because they have a new tenant,” Patrick Looney said.

Windy City RE and its attorneys did not return multiple requests for comment.

Despite issues with the building owner, Looney said he has no ill will toward the new business owners for trying to reopen the vacant venue.

“I don’t have a problem with that guy trying to open it up, though,” he said. “I can’t blame the guy for trying. Really, it’s the landlord that’s the bad actor in all this as far as I’m concerned.”

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe started by Paramount television to help the Looney family repair the bar remains active. It was started in 2017, when the network did a follow-up “Bar Rescue” episode about how the fire destroyed the Abbey.

As of Wednesday, the network had raised $12,903 and was unaware of the legal battle the Looney family is currently involved in.

Funds from the campaign are slated to go to the Looney family.

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