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Blighted Currency Exchange Gets New Life as Old Fashioned Dog, Burger Joint

By Alisa Hauser | June 14, 2013 11:10am
 'The Hat,' an old-fashioned Chicago restaurant serving up everything from Italian beef to Vienna beef hot dogs and gyros, plans to open in the fall at 1604 W. North Ave., on the northwest corner of Ashland and North avenues.
The Hat at 1604 W. North Ave.
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BUCKTOWN — The Vienna Beef factory might be leaving the area, but its classic beef hotdogs can soon be enjoyed at the northwest corner of Ashland and North Avenues, just west of the Kennedy Expressway.

A long-vacant currency exchange at 1604 W. North Ave. — in a highly-visible space that serves as an entryway to both Bucktown and Wicker Park —  was gutted this week to house a hot dog and ice cream place.

An addition at the site will nearly triple the space, according to Erica Thompson, who will serve as a general manager of The Hat.

Thompson described The Hat, which plans to open in the fall, as a "good old fashioned Chicago restaurant that will serve Vienna Beef hot dogs, burgers, Polish sausages, Italian beefs, gyros, pastrami and corn beef, as well as treats like soft-serve ice cream."

Thompson currently works as a manager at Hollywood Grill across the way from The Hat and said that the family-run Diamond Properties Group, which has owned Hollywood Grill at 1601 W. North Ave. since 1995, are the creators of the new venture.

"Basically they were tired of looking at the vacant [currency exchange], which closed at least six years ago. It was an eyesore and causing blight. They wanted to do something good for the neighborhood," Thompson said.

Expected to bring at least one dozen new jobs to the area — as well as offer additional hours and new opportunities to existing Hollywood Grill employees such as Thompson  — The Hat will seat about 30 patrons and cater to lunch, dinner and late-night crowds.

George Liakopoulos, a partner in Diamond Properties, which owns several Chicago restaurants including White Palace Grill and Odie's Drive-In, offered some reasoning behind operating two ventures so close together. 

"Some people want pancakes and breakfast foods after going out, others want fries and hotdogs. So this way they can get both across the street from each other. The only item that overlaps on the Hollywood and The Hat menus is going to be the hamburgers," Liakopoulos said.

Liakopoulos cited an added advantage of both properties having the same owners: shared parking.  Customers of The Hat will be welcome to park in a North Avenue lot adjacent to Hollywood Diner as well as in a covered garage just a few doors south of the diner on Ashland Ave.