LAKEVIEW — The former Southport Lanes building in Lakeview will soon be home to three new restaurants by Chicago-based Boka Restaurant Group.
Boka co-CEO and co-founder Rob Katz confirmed that the restaurant group plans to open three restaurants in the Southport Lanes space next summer. Eater Chicago first reported on the project.
The building at 3325 N. Southport Ave., which was built by Schlitz Brewery around 1900, will be transformed to feature three separate storefronts for each of the new restaurants. But much of the building’s facade, including the iconic Schlitz Brewery sign, will stay the same to pay homage to its history, Katz said.
One of the new restaurants will be GG’s Chicken Shop, a concept by Michelin-starred chef Lee Wolan, which operated as a ghost kitchen out of Boka’s flagship restaurant during the pandemic.
GG’s was supposed to open its first brick-and-mortar store in March 2020, but the pandemic hit that same month and put the opening plans on hold, Katz said.
“Everything got scrapped, so we put the GG’s concept inside the Boka kitchen, where it found its footing and became a beloved restaurant,” Katz said.
GG’s Chicken Shop is a fast-casual restaurant that serves rotisserie chicken, sides, sandwiches and salads, Katz said. The shop is most known for Lee’s famous crispy chicken sandwich, he said.
Boka’s other two restaurants entering the space will be announced by next summer, Katz said.
Katz, who previously lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, said the area was “very near and dear and close to my heart.”
“Knowing the neighborhood so well, we think that these restaurants will be a really cohesive addition to that vibrant, exciting area,” Katz said. “The concepts of what we’re putting in there were inspired by what we thought would be a great fit for the neighborhood, including things we really wanted when we lived there.”
Southport Lanes, which has been closed since September 2020 due to the pandemic, announced in July that it would not be reopening and sold everything inside the business, including its pool tables, bowling equipment and other memorabilia in an auction.
When the bar closed in September 2020, owner Steve Soble said the closure was likely to be for good, and neighbors devastated by the news crowded at Southport Lanes on its last night to pay tribute to the bar’s history in Chicago.
Southport Lanes has long been a part of Chicago lore given its history as a classic tavern that turned into a speakeasy and brothel during Prohibition.
The tavern became a speakeasy with an upstairs brothel during the 1920s, according to Southport Lanes’ website. The building still has a dumbwaiter that was used to bring refreshments to women and their clients.
When Prohibition ended, a building was constructed to the east of the bar room, which Southport Lanes used as the billiards room. This building originally housed an illegal gambling facility, then it became a beer hall for rent and a local polling place in the 1950s.
Soble said they didn’t know about Southport Lanes’ off-track betting parlor until they pulled the phone wires sometime after he bought the bar and grill from its former owner, Leo Beitz.
“He also told me there was a secret room where, legend has it, Mayor Anton Cermak would hold a weekly poker game,” Soble previously said.
Since Soble bought the place in 1991, Southport Lanes has also hosted memorable guests, like the entire Cubs team for a surprise party for Ryan Dempster in 2004 and actor Al Pacino while he was in town filming the 1992 drama “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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