PILSEN — After a two-month hiatus, one of Pilsen's oldest watering holes will once again welcome a crowd of regulars on 18th Street.
If all goes well, Harbee Liquors & Tavern, a mainstay in Pilsen since the 1870s, will reopen March 11, confirmed owner Steve Frytz. Frytz is working to renew the bar's liquor license now, he said at the historic bar Tuesday.
It's been a long road to reopen the bar, Frytz said, but he is committed to keeping the tavern — a slice of the old 18th Street — alive.
"The nostalgia here is important," Frytz said, recalling old timers who bellied up to the bar. "If we don't leave a few taquerias and taverns, it's not going to be the same Pilsen anymore."
In February, Frytz said he was "on the fence" about whether he'd reopen the bar. It was the tavern's 13 bartenders who ultimately convinced him to reopen, he said.
"It's like family, we all miss each other," Frytz said of his staff. "It was like 'Cheers' when we were all together. I miss the community, and we're going to give it [another] shot."
While the bar will be "the same old Harbee's" when it reopens, Frytz said that the tavern will start selling Cuban sandwiches and soups this summer, a nod to his wife Yuliet Frytz's Cuban roots. The couple is working to build a kitchen in the bar's basement now.
Harbee's owner Steve Frytz and wife Yuliet Frytz will reopen the historic tavern March. [dnainfo/Stephanie Lulay]
In February, the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection confirmed there is a pending license disciplinary case against the business. Harbee's owners are charged with failing to notify police about an illegal incident that occurred on Sept. 21 and failing to appear at pre-trial hearings, said Mika Stambaugh, spokeswoman for the city agency.
On Tuesday, Stambaugh declined to comment on the pending case. Frytz said he expects the case to be resolved soon, allowing him to renew Harbee's liquor license in time for a March opening.
Harbee's also owed back taxes to the state. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue could not confirm that all taxes had been paid, but said it is possible that a recent payment had not yet been registered to the state's system.
Frytz said that he is now up-to-date on the state taxes owed.
A Pilsen parade at the intersection of 18th Street and Blue Island Avenue in the 1960s. The sign for Harvey's Liquors, the bar's previous name, can be seen on the right in the photo. [A. Barrios; courtesy of Steve Frytz]
Is it Harbee or Harvey Liquors?
Established in 1878, Harbee Liquors & Tavern, 1345 W. 18th St., was named Harvey's before a license error accidentally changed the name to Harbee's, according to Frytz. Today, a street sign that hangs above the bar still reads: "Harveys Place."
"We looked into changing it back, but it would take an act of Congress," Frytz joked.
The bar was previously owned by Frank and Harry Bauer, Frytz's uncles. They bought the bar in 1959, he said.
During Prohibition, the bar sold buckets of beer for a nickel. Today, 30 percent of Harbee Liquors' sales are still packaged goods — carry-out six packs of beer, Frytz said.
An old 18th Street sign hangs above a vintage photo of 18th Street in Harbee Liquors & Tavern. The sign for Harvey's Liquors, the bar's previous name, can be seen on the right in the photo. [dnainfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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