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Ravenswood Station Closing As Owner Says Bar Couldn’t Overcome Financial Hole From COVID

The last day for the longtime neighborhood near the Damen Brown Line station will be Aug. 21.

Ravenswood Station Bar & Grill, 4709 N. Damen Ave., on Aug. 10, 2022.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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RAVENSWOOD — Ravenswood Station Bar & Grill is on the market — and the longtime neighborhood watering hole will close for good this month.

Neighbors walking by the business at 4709 N. Damen Ave. this week can see two signs posted to the the window: a farewell sign and a “for sale” post.

The farewell from owner Giuseppe Salemme thanks his longtime customers for their support and announces Aug. 21 is the final day of business. The sale sign says the restaurant and bar are a “turn-key operation” for a prospective buyer.

“We’ve been struggling. After COVID, it’s been so tough to do any kind of business,” Salemme said.

Salemme plans to host an informal gathering for regulars and neighbors to say farewell on the final weekend.

Customer Zach Prozanski, who lives nearby, said he wasn’t surprised Salemme decided to close and sell because so many longtime local businesses haven’t survived the pandemic.

“But it’s still sad. Especially after meeting people here over all these years. It’ll be missed, for sure,” Prozanski said. “It’s a neighborhood hangout. You see a familiar face behind the bar or from the neighborhood and say hi and ask how the family and kids are. It’s nice place to keep in touch with people.”

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
Two signs posted on the windows at Ravenswood Station Bar & Grill, 4709 N Damen Ave., on Aug. 10, 2022.

Salemme opened the business under the name The Rail Bar & Grill in 2004 as a sports bar, he said. 

For nearly two decades, the restaurant was a place where people going to and coming from the nearby Damen Brown Line stop could grab a burger and a beer or host a small event, Salemme said.

Salemme renovated and rebranded the business as Ravenswood Station Bar & Grill with a new menu in 2019, hoping to become more of a neighborhood restaurant, he said. 

But a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the restaurant and hospitality industries.

Salemme tried to pivot to home delivery during the early days of the pandemic, but those sales weren’t enough to cover the loss of dine-in, he said. 

Even though the business has a sidewalk patio and the rules for in-person dining are less restrictive, the volume of customers hasn’t returned to pre-COVID levels to cover the losses Salemme experienced over the past two years, he said.

Salemme applied for and received recovery grants, but those funds weren’t enough to keep the business open long term, he said. 

Salemme said he wishes there were more financial aid options from the city for independent restaurants like his still reeling from pandemic disruptions and now grappling with inflation.

“I sunk a lot of money into the revamp before COVID. But we just can’t make it,” Salemme said. “It’s just too big of a financial hole to come out of. It’s like trying to climb out of a volcano before it blows.”

Salemme has been in the restaurant industry for decades. He opened Wild Goose Bar & Grill, 4265 N. Lincoln Ave., in 1998 before selling that business, he said. 

Ravenswood Station was Salemme’s “retirement project” where he was able to work alongside his wife and son, he said. He is 57.

“I don’t know what I’m going do now, to be honest with you. I haven’t even thought about it because I’m still processing this,” Salemme said. “I wish the city would have done something more for us.”

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