Venus, 3741 N. Southport Ave., will be a restaurant with a live theater component, offering a venue for smaller acts that wouldn't fill the 290-seat Mercury Theater, executive director Walter Stearns said.
Deleece, which moved into 3747 N. Southport Ave. on the theater's north side in 2011, will partner on the project, handling restaurant operations.
"I don't know the restaurant business. I take care of the show business," Stearns told the Southport Neighbors Association on Monday.
While the menu hasn't been finalized, it will center on a small plate concept, making it a "nice, casual place to drop in and get a sandwich" even when a performance isn't scheduled, Stearns said.
Cullen's closed Feb. 27 after its owners failed to pay rent for six months, Stearns said Monday. At the time, the theater said Cullen's broke a lease extension agreement by not paying five months of past-due rent.
While Cullen's remained largely silent after the closure, it did post a St. Patrick's Day message to its Facebook page wishing Mercury Theater "the best and offer to him the 'luck of the Irish' in his future endeavor."
"After 20 years on Southport, we felt a six-month lease extension was simply not in our interests and only delayed the inevitable. Our original lease was up in March and that's where we decided to end it," the restaurant wrote.
Permits have been in the works for more than three months, and neighbors will still vote on whether to recommend the project to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). Once permits are approved, Stearns said the theater would begin remodeling.
West Town's Z Design-Build Group created renderings that Stearns shared Monday.
The building's facade would change significantly, with the door moving to the right side and a new aluminum storefront featuring a large glass window and backlit signs. The interior plans include stacked seating, a bar and a flat stage area.
Venus would seat 90 people — fewer than Cullen's — and host shows like a scaled-back production of "Avenue Q," a two-person comedy or an acoustic guitarist, Stearns said. The room's arrangement and decor could also be adjusted to fit different types of performances.
"I have very old-fashioned tastes, and the kind of audience I attract is slightly older, not a young, rock-and-roll audience," Stearns said. "I'd like this to be sort of an extension of the audience we have here at the Mercury Theater."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: