WICKER PARK — Moonshine, a Division Street bar and restaurant staple, has abruptly shuttered and is up for sale.
"We've had a good run, there's a lot of competition and it was best to let someone else take a stab at it," said John Sanchez, the owner of Moonshine at 1824 W. Division St., during a private final night for friends and family on Wednesday.
The owners of nearby Smoke Daddy restaurant say they would like to open another eatery at the location.
Sanchez, who opened Moonshine just after Sept. 11, 2001, said the bar's closure was "quietly known within the family" of tight-knit workers. About 40 employees have been laid off; Sanchez said he was working to help get them jobs at other area spots.
Alisa Hauser explains Moonshine's closure:
Real estate broker Ryan Holden, a former bouncer at Moonshine, is helping Sanchez try to sell the business, which includes a lease, liquor license, assets and inventory. Holden said there were two other bars already in talks about buying Moonshine, one of which is "a well-known operator," though he declined to elaborate further.
Moonshine's one-story standalone building and adjacent parking lot, about two blocks east of the Division and Damen avenues intersection, is owned by 4 Star Restaurant Group, which bought 1824 W. Division St. for $3.6 million in February, according to county records.
Smoke Daddy, just up the street at 1804 W. Division St, is part of the 4 Star Restaurant Group, a venture headed by Josh Rutherford, Mike and Doug Dunlay and Derek Rettell.
"Moonshine's lease isn't up yet; they have a current lease through July and another five-year option to renew. Our goal is to put our own place there eventually, though for now we have a lease with Moonshine," Rutherford said on Wednesday.
"We would love to get a restaurant in there if their lease ends up running out and they are done. But it won't be anything like Moonshine. It would be a complete gut rehab that would fit better with the neighborhood now. Something similar to what we did on Southport like Crosby's Kitchen," Rutherford said, referring to a Lakeview restaurant also run by 4 Star.
For Moonshine's longtime workers and patrons, the loss of the bar, known for its laid back and unpretentious vibe, was the focus of conversations and toasts during an emotional final gathering. The bar was also known for its chili cook-offs, annual rib-a-que contest and other events.
"We didn't just build a bar, we built a community," said Moonshine's general manager Mike Lee during one of several toasts.
Philin Phlash was among 75 regular patrons who packed the bar late into the night Wednesday.
"It was a place where anyone could come in. A stranger off the street could feel welcome here. That's the loss," said Phlash, a photographer who was removing his photo galleries from the walls during the closing party.
For Robert Soller, a local artist who lives on Division Street, the closure means that a mural he painted in the bar in 2001 will likely be removed.
Soller's mural, along the bar's back wall, depicts two Prohibition-era federal agents officers who are busting an illegal moonshine operation.
"It's sad when you know that your work that has been there for so long will be destroyed, but what's more sad is the loss of this bar and others like Club Foot. The bars that have been here a long time are dropping like flies," Soller said.
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