LINCOLN SQUARE — Within the next three to four months, an upscale neighborhood restaurant is set to rise at the site of the former Paddy O'Splaines, currently a vacant hulk at the corner of Montrose and Artesian avenues.
Neighbors expressed cautious optimism at a meet-and-greet with the new owners, a gathering organized by the office of Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).
"To start out with, you don't want to have an empty property," said Bette Vidina, who's lived in the area long enough to remember when the building in question housed a small grocery store and butcher shop.
Of late, she said, the abandoned O'Splaines has become a magnet for graffiti, garbage and vagrants.
Minimally, new occupants should mean "we'll have the alley clean and we won't have drunks running around," said Vidina.
Jesse Boyle, lead partner of the new ownership team, said he's aware of the property's history of neglect — upon taking possession of the building, he discovered $30,000 worth of damage caused by vandals who had stripped the place of its copper and wiring.
"We're trying to put something in you're going to be proud of," he told the crowd of 25-30 neighbors who attended his presentation Monday night. "We own the building. We want to make sure it lifts the neighborhood."
Though a newcomer to Lincoln Square, Boyle is a veteran of Chicago's restaurant scene, operating Red Ivy in Wrigleyville, J Patrick's in West Town and Quay near Navy Pier.
He admits he was initially skeptical he could make the Montrose location work.
"There's a dearth of restaurants in that specific area," he said.
On the one hand, that would mean little competition. On the other, "Why is no one here?" he wondered. "What do they know?"
Reading O'Splaines' Yelp reviews he became convinced that neighbors would give a well-run restaurant a fair shot.
For his latest venture, he promised an "upscale buildout" — with features such as reclaimed barn wood and three fireplaces — that would still "feel very comfortable." Windows will replace brick on the Artesian side of the building, eliminating taggers' canvas of choice. Plans also call for a sidewalk cafe in the summer.
"It won't look anything like what you see now," said Boyle. "When you walk in, you won't recognize it."
Mention of the yet-to-be-named restaurant's circular bar and the owners' intention of becoming a hub for soccer and rugby fans raised a red flag with some neighbors, as did the news that Jim Cornelison, official national anthem singer for the Chicago Blackhawks, is an investor in the Montrose property.
Residents, still smarting from O'Splaines' practice of hiring promoters to bring in busloads of rowdy patrons, worried Boyle would pull a bait and switch and open up a raucous sports bar.
Pat Doerr, a partner in the venture, was quick to clarify.
"This is a restaurant with bar seating," he said. "Far more than half the revenue will be food, 85 percent of the seating is restaurant seating."
The food will have an international flavor, with a focus on organic, locally-sourced ingredients. Boyle also vowed there would be more options for vegans and vegetarians than a veggie burger.
"We've gotta nail the food right out of the gate," he said. "You're going to have a menu that's going to be exciting" and innovative, but familiar enough for less adventurous eaters, including children.
If Boyle sounded short on specifics, that's because the partners have yet to officially hire a chef for the unnamed eatery.
"We're down to three or four chefs," said Doerr. "You will recognize the name."
While the new owners wait on permits from the City of Chicago, which they expect to come through any day, they're keeping busy negotiating a parking arrangement with the Aldi's across the street.
Though Boyle insisted that "our core constituency is in the immediate six-block area," he said he wouldn't mind if his new restaurant became a destination that drew from outside Lincoln Square.
That's fine with Bette Vidina, on one condition.
"I just don't want it to be a mess."