EAST SIDE — Nine years after a group of historic Schlitz taverns were classified as Chicago landmarks, a city commission approved historic preservation status for a similar East Side tavern as its owners prepare to reopen a bar at the site.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted last week to recommend landmark status for the 113-year-old former Schlitz tied house at 9401 S. Ewing Ave. The structure just needs City Council approval to become the neighborhood’s fifth Chicago landmark.
More than 40 former tied houses, or bars owned by large breweries to sell their product, still stand in Chicago. Schlitz built the majority of them. Eight Schlitz tied houses were listed as Chicago landmarks in 2011, as was a brewery stable once owned by the company.
Mike Medina, who owns the East Side property with his wife, Laura Coffey Medina, said the previous owner had been approached about pursuing landmark designation for the East Side building when city officials certified the other Schlitz tied houses.
“I’m not sure why, but the owner then decided not to pursue it,” Mike Medina said. “It’s definitely a building that’s equal to the importance of the other ones that are landmarked.”
The Medinas purchased the building last summer. They intend to return the building to its bar roots with a plan to open East Side Tap by mid-2021.
“We’re not interested in reinventing the wheel with it — just having it be a normal neighborhood tavern,” Medina said. “We have no high mind about concept or anything like that. We just want to reopen it as how it’s been run for 100-plus years.”
A side yard will be renovated for bocce ball tournaments and other activities, Coffey Medina told commissioners at the June 4 meeting.
A second-floor apartment is in the “early stages” of renovation and could be put back on the market, Medina said. The owners are unsure of what to do with an eight-room former boarding house at the rear, though it’s “a snapshot in time” and served as affordable housing for workers of the 1900s, he said.
“It makes perfect sense to build a rooming house, an apartment [for the barkeeper] and a tavern all in one,” Medina said.
Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox praised the Medinas’ efforts to preserve the building and its history.
“It sounds like a true labor of love,” Cox said to the Medinas. “We really value folks like yourselves who step forward and take on these individual projects, because that’s what makes this city so worth living in.”
In January, the owners put out a call for help tracking down the building’s original stained glass window, which was removed and sold before they bought the building.
Though they’ve been unable to locate the unique installation, earlier this year they found the next best thing at a suburban glass studio: the original template for the window.
The original window’s manufacturer, Kokomo Opalescent Glass, is still in business, so a replacement could be made using the same design and the same material.
But the Medinas would prefer to hunt down the original and make an offer on it before replacing it.
“We would love for the building to have that window back,” Medina said. “I think it belongs there.”
Scenes for the fourth season of the FX TV show “Fargo” were shot at the bar and in the surrounding neighborhood, Medina said.
Producers for the season, set in Kansas City in the mid-20th century, were looking for a “well-worn building … that looked like 1950 without having to do too much set dressing,” he said.
The season was scheduled to premiere April 19, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed filming after eight of 10 episodes were shot.
“They reached out to us by sticking a note on the door,” Medina said. “It was insane to watch the amount of work that went into it.”
If approved by City Council, the tied house would become the East Side’s fifth Chicago landmark, alongside:
- The Illinois-Indiana State Line Boundary Marker, built in 1838 and listed as a landmark in 2002.
- The Calumet Park Fieldhouse, built from 1922–1924 and listed in 2006.
- The North and South Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway Bridges, built from 1912–1915 and listed together in 2007.
“There aren’t a lot of landmarked buildings on the East Side proper, so this goes a long way in in showing that [landmark-worthy] buildings are all across the city,” Medina said.
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