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River North, Gold Coast, Near North Side

Rainforest Cafe Closes A Year Sooner Than Planned — And Developer Got To Keep A Gorilla

The family-friendly restaurant could be redeveloped into new retail space or demolished for a high-rise, property owner Sean Conlon said.

Workers take down the neon Rainforest Cafe signage that adorned the corner of Clark and Ohio for more than two decades.
Jay Koziarz/Block Club Chicago
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RIVER NORTH — Downtown’s kitschy Rainforest Cafe and its signature tree frog are leaving River North after 23 years at the northeast corner of Ohio and Clark streets. 

Another economic victim of the coronavirus crisis, the two-story jungle-themed eatery permanently closed its doors a year earlier than expected, property owner Sean Conlon confirmed. 

“They were due to leave in one year’s time but [the crisis] accelerated things,” said Conlon, a real estate developer and star of CNBC’s TV show “The Deed: Chicago.” “It’s an iconic restaurant that’s served families well, but there was simply no business.”

Long popular among tourists and diners with small children, the Rainforest Cafe shut down during the lockdown early this spring. Unlike some other restaurants in the area, it never reopened for outdoor dining or carryout service. 

The chain’s owners, Landry’s Restaurants, could not be reached for comment. The Houston-based company, which operates multiple brands including Morton’s Steakhouse and Bubba Gump Shrimp, shuttered its Rainforest Cafe location at Woodfield Mall in suburban Schaumburg earlier this year. 

Credit: Jay Koziarz/Block Club Chicago
Workers remove signage at Rainforest Cafe.

Over the weekend, workers removed the neon “Rainforest Cafe” signage from the building at 605 N. Clark St. While Conlon said he has an agreement with the outgoing tenant to keep one of the restaurant’s animatronic gorillas as a personal souvenir, it’s unclear what will happen to its tree frog “Cha! Cha!”

 “Looking over the contract, my lawyer told me it’s the first time he’s encountered a gorilla clause,” Conlon said. “But I didn’t ask them for the frog. Perhaps I was a poor negotiator?” 

Conlon says he envisions two likely scenarios for the prominent River North site: renovating the existing two-story building for a new retail tenant or demolishing the structure and erecting a high-rise in its place.

“Obviously the world has changed, but even in a crisis this is still one of the premier corners in Chicago,” he said. “It’s too early to say [what will happen to the site], but I get several calls a week about it. Some opportunity will emerge.”

The departure of the Rainforest Cafe represents the most recent tourist-friendly family establishment to bite the dust in the immediate area. Over the past several years, the sites of the neighborhood’s former Ed Debevic’s, Howard Johnson’s, and Gino’s East, formerly home to Planet Hollywood, have all been replaced with high-rise apartment towers.

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