EDGEBROOK — The ashes of the May fire that closed the Myron and Phil steak and seafood restaurant hadn't even cooled before owner Mark Freedman vowed to reopen the iconic Far Northwest Side eatery founded by his father and uncle 43 years ago.
But a protracted battle with the restaurant's insurance company and a desire to open a more casual tavern prompted Freedman to announce this week he will not reopen the famed restaurant at its longtime location at 3900 W. Devon Ave.
"We don't want to fold and go away," Freedman said. "But we need to change with the times, and start fresh in a new location."
No one was hurt in the fire, which erupted in the early morning hours of May 8 in an electrical fixture in a store room. Although the fire, which was ruled accidental by authorities, burned through the roof of the Lincolnwood restaurant, it was contained to that room, Freedman said, leading him to think the restaurant would be able to reopen quickly.
"The dining room was OK — but there was smoke in every crack and crevice," said Freedman, who lives in Edgebrook. "The smoke damage was serious."
At the same time that the fire erupted, Myron Freedman — who founded the steakhouse with his brother, Phil in 1971 — died at age 95 from complications from dementia.
"The last years of his life were tough, and he was in pain," Freedman said of his father. "We were all sad, but we were glad to know he was out of pain, misery and suffering.
"Do I wish he had chosen another day? I sure do."
The Myron and Phil name will live on in some form at the new restaurant, along with some of the dishes that made the restaurant a neighborhood institution, including the chopped liver, whitefish, skirt steak and salad dressing. But the new tavern will have a new name to reflect its brand as a tavern and menu of salads and sandwiches, Freedman said.
That will be a big change from Myron and Phil, where a chopped liver pate, a bread basket, peppers, green tomatoes, raw onions and pickle relish greeted each diner as they sat down. Freedman had been in the midst of updating the menu with more barbecue items when the fire occurred.
"It won't be a steak and seafood restaurant," Freedman said. "But I know we can do it better than anywhere else."
The news of the permanent closure of Myron and Phil prompted an outpouring of grief and sadness on the restaurant's Facebook page. Many recalled going to the restaurant as children, or bemoaned the lengthy wait for another steak cooked just the way they like it.
The tradition of excellent food and service Myron and Phil's became known for will continue at the new location, but with a "contemporary twist," Freedman said.
To jump start his new venture, Freedman auctioned off most of the contents of the restaurant, with bar stools going for $10 and the black leather chairs sold for just a few bucks.
"It was a very difficult day," said Freedman, who took over the restaurant in 1999. "It was hard to see that stuff go. But I kept the pictures and the wall art, and all the things that were special."
Freedman said he is still looking for the perfect location for his new venture, and has been inundated with requests from both suburbs and Chicago neighborhoods.
"We've been tickled by the number of people who have called us up," Freedman said.
Jennifer Herren, the executive director of the Sauganash Chamber of Commerce, said she would be thrilled if Freedman's new restaurant ends up within the city limits.
"We've been feeling the loss for a while now," Herren said, recalling the many family events and chamber functions held at the restaurant, which featured a spacious patio. "You always felt like you were family, being hosted by family."