LITTLE ITALY — At a first glance, it might seem that nothing has changed at Little Joe’s, the Little Italy dive bar that’s been around for 75 years.
But while the brick walls and the neon sign behind the counter are the same, in the past two years Little Joe’s got new owners, new management and a new menu.
Business partners Alex Haried and Ryan Phelan bought Little Joe’s in February 2020. Haried called it “the worst timing possible”: They dealt with broken furnaces, a pandemic and expensive attempts to stay open throughout the lockdowns. They fully reopened their bar, 1041 W. Taylor St., earlier this year.
“Buying the place had always been a distant dream for me and Ryan,” Haried said. “I assumed it would have been more of a ‘retirement job,’ not something I would have to do at 33.”
Haried and Phelan grew up and live in the neighborhood. After meeting in high school, Little Joe’s became one of their favorite hangouts.
When they heard the previous owner, Joe Assenato — whose family started the business in 1946 — was looking to sell, they stepped in.
The new owners decided to preserve the dive bar feeling they loved so much growing up, but they also introduced changes to make sure the bar was for the whole community.
Little Joe’s celebrated its grand reopening May 14, with a new manager and bartender Kevin Gliwa, a veteran in the hospitality industry. He designed a whole new list of drinks and cocktails, and he’s still looking for creations to add.
As of now, the kitchen is closed, but patrons can bring in their own food. Haried said the kitchen “it’s a work in progress and it will soon be available again.”
This summer proved to be successful, also thanks to the addition of the backyard patio. Furnished with barrels and wooden benches, it has a view over the fields of St. Ignatius College Prep and “it’s perfect for parents to watch their kids playing while they have a drink,” Gliwa said.
But after months of trivia nights, football and baseball games, the bar is now getting ready for another big event: Little Joe’s 75th anniversary party. It will be held Nov. 6. You can RSVP to email@example.com.
Despite the initial challenges, the owners and the staff are optimistic.
“This time, we’re here for the long term,” Haried said. “We want to become established, a part of the community.”
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