PORTAGE PARK — Work has finally begun on Community, a new gastropub from the owner of the Portage, which promises upscale, classic American food and a relaxed atmosphere.
Community, 4038 N. Milwaukee Ave., is expected to open in June in the Six Corners Shopping District, owner Quay Tao said, as a construction crew sawed, hammered and drilled in an effort to make the most of this week's winter thaw.
"I've always been one to take chances," Tao said, adding that he has owned the building for two years and spent about 10 months securing permits from the city. "I see the opportunities and potential in a bunch of empty storefronts."
The Portage, 3938 N. Central Ave., has become an institution in a neighborhood with very few trendy restaurants catering to upper middle-class residents. Tao, who lives in nearby Old Irving Park with his wife, said he wants Community to be another reason for people all over the city to travel to the Far Northwest Side.
"I love this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue," Tao said. "It is going to be an extension of what's going on in Logan Square, Wicker Park and Bucktown."
Once the premier shopping district in Chicago outside the Loop, the area near Irving Park Road and Milwaukee and Cicero avenues was home to dozens of stores offering shoppers their hearts' desire and a chance to see a movie at the Portage Theater, built in the 1920s. Community will be just a few doors down from the theater.
But Six Corners fell into decline with the rise of the malls in and around Chicago, and has struggled for decades to regain a measure of its former glory. Ald. John Arena (45th) has been working to turn the area into an arts and culture mecca that would draw people from all over the city with the promise of a show and dinner.
At a Feb. 13 meeting of the Six Corners Business Association, Arena said seven businesses — including Community — are slated to open at Six Corners in the next several months.
"We are on the map," Arena said. "We are part of the next wave" of business development, said the alderman.
But development at Six Corners has been stalled by the closure of the Portage Theater, which many see as the key to revitalizing the area. Owner Eddie Carranza shuttered the theater in May as part of a dispute with Arena over its liquor license.
Tao said he stopped following the "up-and-down" saga of the Portage Theater several months ago.
"With or without the Portage Theater, this area is on an upward trend," Tao said. "If it is open, it could be a benefit, but I'm not losing sleep over it."
A former billiards supply shop that was in foreclosure when Tao bought it, the restaurant-to-be has been stripped down to the brick walls, with the frames of new walls, the large bar and the private dining room taking shape.
While the Portage is known for its neoAmerican cuisine, Community will focus on classics like chops, steaks and seafood while offering a vibrant bar scene, Tao said.
"It will be refined," Tao said. "We will take the food very seriously."
Once a month, the restaurant will host a fundraiser for a local charity, Tao said.
"I want this place to be a gathering place and a place where people connect," Tao said, adding that the restaurant will welcome couples for romantic dinners as well as locals stopping in for a craft beer after work.
There's no reason Six Corners can't be a "fun, vibrant" area with "a ton" of pedestrian traffic, Tao said.
"We just have to make it happen by all doing our part," Tao said. "Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd."