HUMBOLDT PARK — The California Clipper’s landlord, Gino Battaglia, and his wife, Bernadette, have filed a lawsuit against the bar’s former operator Brendan Sodikoff, alleging Sodikoff owes them $18,000 in unpaid rent and $46,000 in damages.
It’s the latest development in The California Clipper saga, which started in May when Sodikoff abruptly shut down the beloved Humboldt Park bar and neighboring coffee shop C.C. Ferns.
In the lawsuit, filed July 21 in Cook County Circuit Court, the Battaglias argue Sodikoff broke the terms of the lease when he shut down the bar and stopped paying rent.
Reached by phone Thursday, Battaglia said, “We want to be made whole. He has a legal obligation. … he has to honor that lease or negotiate in good faith to make things right.”
In the lawsuit, the couple also argues Sodikoff caused nearly $50,000 in damage to the bar at 1002 N. California Ave. when he moved out. Battaglia said the building’s electrical and plumbing systems were damaged.
Asked for his comment on The Clipper lawsuit, Sodikoff said in an email Thursday, “I don’t know about any lawsuit. We have a closed tavern that can’t operate in these times.”
The Battaglias filed a second lawsuit against Sodikoff, also on July 21 in Cook County Circuit Court, for failure to pay rent at 958 N. California Ave, another one of the couple’s properties.
Battaglia told Block Club Sodikoff was planning to open an establishment there, but never did and then moved out and stopped paying rent when he closed The Clipper.
In the lawsuit, the couple argues Sodikoff owes nearly $24,000 in unpaid rent and $5,250 in damages for that property. Sodikoff failed to leave the property in a “clean, sightly and healthy condition,” according to the suit.
Sodikoff did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the 958 N. California Ave. lawsuit.
Throughout the saga, Sodikoff has blamed the coronavirus crisis for the closure.
“Unfortunately it’s in the best health interest of the public to keep taverns such as the Clipper closed at this time,” Sodikoff said in an email after the closure.
“It’s a huge sacrifice but a necessary one to save our family, friends and their loved ones. With no clear horizon to the pandemic in sight and stacking expenses there are few options.”
In an Eater Chicago article, Sodikoff also suggested Battaglia was to blame for the closure. He said he wasn’t able to reach an agreement with Battaglia on rent abatement.
But, according to Battaglia and emails shared with Block Club, that’s not true. Battaglia said he was willing to accept reduced rent or tack rent onto the back end of the lease to keep The California Clipper and C.C. Ferns as tenants, but Sodikoff ignored the offers, stopped paying rent and then shut down both businesses without warning.
“[Sodikoff] just wanted out of the lease. Period,” Battaglia said in May.
Sodikoff took over The Clipper in 2014, but the bar dates back to the 1930s and has been a local favorite for decades.
Sodikoff runs a host of other trendy spots including Au Cheval, Gilt Bar and Green Street Smoked Meats under the bar/restaurant group Hogsalt Hospitalty.
According to public records, Hogsalt Hospitality received between $5-10 million from the federal government’s Payment Protection Program, launched as part of the $2 trillion federal stimulus package to help small businesses survive the coronavirus crisis.
That money is intended for payroll, but can be used toward rent.
According to emails shared with Block Club, Sodikoff’s attorney refused to provide financial documents so Battaglia and Sodikoff could reach an agreement on a rent reduction or some other arrangement to ensure The California Clipper and C.C. Ferns remained tenants.
Battaglia said he questions why Sodikoff did not use part of his Payment Protection Program loan on rent.
“What did Hogsalt do with all of the money? That’s the question,” he said.
As for the future of The Clipper, Battaglia said several operators have expressed interest in taking over the historic bar, but nothing has materialized yet. He said some have expressed more hesitation in light of the state’s recent coronavirus surge.
If a new operator steps in, the bar may not re-emerge as The California Clipper as Sodikoff retains the rights to the bar’s name. Asked about whether he was willing to sell the rights to a new operator, Sodikoff said in an email, “We are coming to a mutual settlement on the liabilities and all moving on.” He did not answer further questions.
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