LINCOLN SQUARE — Stop into DANK Haus German American Cultural Center’s skyline lounge on some Thursdays this month and Joe and Susan Heinen will be behind the bar.
The couple closed the Red Lion Pub, 4749 N. Rockwell St., earlier this year due to the pandemic. But since May they’ve quietly been volunteering to serve drinks to the Red Lion’s regulars and a few new faces as part of DANK’s Neighborhood Nights.
“The Red Lion was always kind of like ‘Cheers.’ Most of the regulars are people who live in the neighborhood and just walked to the place” Joe Heinen said. “This is a great way for them to still hang out and keep in touch.”
Neighborhood Nights happens on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. All proceeds go towards supporting DANK’s museum curation efforts.
Thanks to months of renovations over the summer at the cultural center, 4740 N. Western Ave., neighbors can enjoy their beers on a new rooftop terrace that overlooks Lincoln Square and has an unobstructed view of the skyline.
“This is great. It’s spacious. Right now, with fall about to hit us and summer just closing up, the weather is beautiful and that skyline is great to see,” neighbor Mackenzie Nelson said.
The Heinens have lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and used to take their daughter to DANK so she could learn German as a child. They also co-wrote “Lost German Chicago,” which details the history of Chicago’s German community from Beer Riots through World War II, and was a companion piece to the DANK museum’s similarly tiled exhibition in 2011.
Before the couple opened the Red Lion, Susan Heinen was on the nonprofit’s board. She remembers how expensive major repairs and maintenance to DANK’s six-story, 93-year-old building were.
“It was a huge task. But now, with the new board, they’re able to take the next step and really focus on beautification,” she said. “We just want the the neighborhood to know what the DANK Haus is. Not just a German meeting place, but one of the crown jewels of Lincoln Square.”
Renovations took about eight months and were completed in June. The new terrace also has awnings that can go up during inclement weather, electrical outlets to help supply power for lights or speakers, among other amenities.
Part of the funding for the renovations came from a grant from the German government’s federal foreign office, said DANK’s executive director Monica Jirak.
The grant also helped pay for critical upgrades to DANK’s digital technology to help with the nonprofit’s online programing to reach a wider local and national audience, upgraded air conditioning units and flooring, all of which help ensure the nonprofit’s sustainability for the next several decades.
“We have a great working relationship with the German consulate housed here in Chicago and we’re really thankful for the support,” Jirak said. “And now, with the terrace, we have an amazing outdoor space we can utilize, which is important now more than ever before.”
DANK could not disclose how much the grant was, but Jirak said it was a “sizable” amount that helped DANK supplement funds already raised for the upgrades.
For the past few years, DANK has reached out to the neighborhood’s retiring business owners in an effort to preserve as much of Lincoln Square’s German history as possible.
When Lincoln Square’s Chicago Brauhaus closed in December 2017, DANK connected with owners Harry and Guenther Kempf to relocate the beloved bar to the cultural center’s second floor, retaining much of the original interior.
Because of the pandemic, DANK has put more resources into its online efforts. The digitization of its Eintracht newspaper collection, a German-language publication, was finished earlier this month. Those archives are accessible online at the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections at the University of Illinois.
“Joe and Susan have always been really involved with the DANK Haus, particularly with our museum,” Jirak said. “It was just natural to have them host this ongoing pop-up where the proceeds go directly toward the museum which we’re looking to upgrade further in the next couple of years.”
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: