AVONDALE — For the first time in nearly 40 years, Alice Boron isn’t slinging drinks and making friends behind the bar at Alice’s Lounge.
Boron, the longtime owner and “queen” of the Avondale karaoke bar, recently sold Alice’s, 3556 W. Belmont Ave., to bar industry veterans Jeremy Schnitker and Zachary Fox and local bar group Hammock Hospitality.
Boron decided it was time to move on, and the sale was finalized this month after a year of negotiations, Schnitker and Fox said. Boron declined to be interviewed.
Schnitker, an Alice’s regular who was most recently the general manager at Hammock Hospitality’s Avondale Tap, and Fox, who’s worked for Hammock establishments such as Aberdeen Tap and other Chicago bars and restaurants such as Dusek’s and Pub Royale, have taken over Alice’s as the owners and operators.
Hammock Hospitality’s Chris Mitchell and Turan Yon are silent partners. A limited liability corporation owned by Mitchell and Yon bought the Alice’s building, which has apartments on the top floors.
Chicago has lost some of its most treasured dive bars in recent years to closure or renovations. But Alice’s isn’t going anywhere despite the ownership shakeup: Schnitker and Fox plan to keep the nightlife institution as it is and carry on Boron’s legacy — nonstop karaoke, wood paneling and all.
“It’s got a built-in vibe already. We’d be foolish to change any of that,” Schnitker said.
‘The Same Old Alice’s’
Boron and her family opened Alice’s in 1986, according to a 2015 Reader article.
At the time, Boron was working as a hairdresser and didn’t have an interest in running a bar. Boron told the Reader it was her husband and brother-in-law who wanted to open a bar, and she and her sister were along for the ride.
But within a few years, Boron became the bar’s sole owner and operator after her sister and brother-in-law moved out of Chicago and her husband died, according to the Reader.
“I just sort of held on for dear life,” Boron told the Reader. “It was hard, but it’s better than working for somebody, it’s better than struggling who-knows-where to make ends meet.”
Over the years, Boron thrived as the owner as Alice’s, making friends with patrons and introducing regular karaoke nights that have come to define the bar, the new owners said.
Alice’s started out as a hub for third-shift factory workers. Today, young people flock to the bar for karaoke and cheap drinks.
“All the props in the world go to Alice for building that,” Fox said. “We’re super thankful that we’re not starting at ground zero. We see room to improve, but we’re so happy to have what we have. That was all because of Alice and her staff.”
Alice’s will remain a late-night karaoke dive bar under the new owners.
Fox and Schnitker are continuing the tradition of hosting karaoke four nights a week with bar fixture Fred Wood as the host. They’ve also kept the original staff, some of whom have been bartending at Alice’s for 15 years.
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The new owners said they’re only making minor upgrades that will improve the quality of service, such as modernizing the point of sale system, debuting a “speedy and delicious” cocktail bar and ditching the buzz-for-entry system.
They don’t plan to close the bar for any period of time as they make the slight changes.
“Ninety percent of the changes are boring stuff that no one will ever notice,” Fox said. “It’ll be the same old Alice’s, in many many ways.”
The biggest change is one many Alice’s fans can surely get behind: The new owners hope to expand the bar’s hours so it’s open seven nights a week. Currently, it’s only open Wednesday-Sunday.
Schnitker said they’re coming in with a strong desire to keep the “heart and soul” of Alice’s intact, as fans of the bar themselves.
“A lot of the new places that open up are very much a concept. … We remember what bars were like before subway tile, exposed brick,” he said. “We were really enticed by the fact that we could buy a dive bar and keep it a dive bar, a bar that you could walk into and it was like one of the bars you hung out in your early 20s — not a lot of fuss.”
Fox and Schnitker have deep ties to Chicago’s bar and restaurant scene, having worked in the industry for years as bartenders and general managers. They began seriously looking into opening a bar together in winter 2020, hoping to take their careers to the next level.
“You put a lot of work into building a place up. After you do it long enough, you want a piece of that equity,” Schnitker said.
At the time, Schnitker was the general manager at Avondale Tap down the street from Alice’s, and he was spending a few nights a week night hanging out at the karaoke bar, getting to know the staff and other regulars.
Through industry connections, Fox and Schnitker were offered the chance to buy Alice’s without the bar hitting the market, they said. Their friends at Hammock Hospitality made the business venture a reality.
“I’m very excited and very happy to be partnered up with them,” Mitchell said.
The new owners said Boron was motivated to sell for personal reasons, and not because the business was struggling in any way.
Alice’s closed at the start of the pandemic and didn’t reopen until fall 2021, the new owners said. But as soon as the wood-paneled doors flung open, it was business as usual: The bar was filled with young people belting out “I Want It That Way” and “Mr. Brightside.” Boron owned the building, which made enduring the pandemic easier, they said.
Boron entrusted Fox and Schnitker to preserve the neighborhood institution.
Bars called Sullivan’s and Helen’s came before Alice’s. Before that, the Belmont Avenue space was home to a butcher shop. Back in the day, the wooden coolers behind the bar were used to store cuts of meat, Fox said.
“We like a lot of what this place was, and the city still needs cool dive bars,” Schnitker said.
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