HUMBOLDT PARK — A new hospitality group is taking over two beloved Humboldt Park establishments that closed during the pandemic — the California Clipper and Café Marie-Jeanne — with the goal of reopening the neighboring spots this fall.
Under the Orbit Group’s plans, the Clipper at 1002 N. California Ave. will have the same look and feel as it did before restaurateur Brendon Sodikoff, the bar’s previous owner, abruptly closed the 1930s tavern last summer. The group plans to bring back the red lights, cozy booths and live music — all staples of the treasured bar.
In a separate yet complementary project, the team of Chicago restaurant and bar veterans plans to open Segnatore, a restaurant/bar with Italian-meets-Midwestern fare, in the Café Marie-Jeanne spot at 1001 N. California Ave. Café Marie-Jeanne’s owners — Mike Simmons and Valerie Szafranski — closed the European-style cafe in November for financial reasons, citing the pandemic.
The two establishments will be run by Orbit Group’s chef and partner Matt Troost, formerly of Three Aces and Charlatan, beverage lead Kristina Magro, who’s worked at Lone Wolf and Prairie School, and Ben Fasman, from Sao Song, Estereo and Big Star. Fasman will serve as general manager of the Clipper.
“We want to see this corner of the city come back to life,” Marketing Director Jessica Garza said. “The hospitality industry took a huge hit from COVID. We want to help bring [it] back to life over here, and do what we can for it.”
The Orbit Group crew officially signed leases on the Clipper and Café Marie-Jeanne late this spring. They said they were drawn to the neighboring spots for their respective reputations as community hubs. Before it closed last summer, the Clipper was a neighborhood staple for nearly 85 years. And prior to shuttering, Café Marie-Jeanne was a go-to spot in Humboldt Park: The restaurant and bar was frequently packed and earned rave reviews from food critics.
“It’s not often that you get the opportunity to take on a space that is so important to Chicago,” Troost said. “We felt like this would be a great opportunity to help revitalize this corner.”
The Clipper and Segnatore are the group’s first projects, though they also run the River North bar Good Measure at 226 W. Chicago Ave., which was folded into the hospitality group after launch.
With the Clipper, the three restaurant and bar industry vets aim to pay homage to the bar’s history and bring back all of the things people love about the place (including a riff on the bar’s grape drink), while also making small changes, like improving the sound system and making service more efficient, they said.
“You’re not going to walk in and feel like much has changed,” Magro said.
They hope it’s a fresh start for the Clipper, which was tangled up in controversy for months. Landlord Gino Battaglia sued Sodikoff, the bar’s previous owner, after Sodikoff shut down the bar last summer. In the lawsuit, Battaglia alleged Sodikoff owed more than $93,000 in unpaid rent and damages. Sodikoff blamed the pandemic on the closure. The two reached a settlement this March.
After the lawsuit was resolved, Battaglia started renting out the bar to Lionsgate. The film production studio has used the bar as a filming location over the past several months. That work will continue until the Orbit Group formally takes over the bar.
As for Segnatore, the owners plan to serve Italian cuisine “mixed with a pinch of Chicago-style fare,” they said in a written statement. The drink menu will include cocktails, “frozen Italian classics” and non-alcoholic spritzes, as well as coffee and tea. Segnatore’s wine list will focus on women winemakers from across the country.
The group named the restaurant Segnatore after healers in Italy “that use herbal remedies, ritual processes and spiritual practices,” they said.
While they’re not ready to divulge too many details about the restaurant and bar, they said to expect a European vibe, but not a replica of Café Marie-Jeanne.
“We have full respect and admiration for what they did, but we’re not trying to recreate what they did, either,” Garza said.
Both projects are personal for Garza and the Orbit Group crew. Magro said she enjoyed many nights at the Clipper and afternoons at Café Marie-Jeanne before they closed.
“These two spots mean a lot to every single one of us, but we also know how much these venues mean to a lot of other people, so we’re trying to be really conscious of that,” she said.
Magro said they aim to be “good stewards” of both establishments and hopefully usher in a new era for the once-vibrant Humboldt Park corner.
“We don’t want to be the ones to ruin the California Clipper. We just want to be the ones to breathe some life back into it and keep it going for the next 100 years,” she said.
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