NORTH CENTER — Five years ago, Andrea Kardaras and Ron Prokaski giddily posed for photos in the doorway of Windy City Inn, having just become the new owners of the North Center bar.
Standing in the same spot Wednesday, the husband and wife experienced the opposite emotions as they prepared for one final last call this weekend. They've been told to vacate by the end of October.
In July, tipped off by a friend in real estate, the couple learned the building at 2257 W. Irving Park Road had been sold to a developer in May.
"It was a total surprise," said Kardaras. "This is our living. We have employees ... and no warning."
"Developers come along waving the big bucks — at the very least, we should have been given a heads-up," said Prokaski.
Initially the two were told their lease would be extended through January; later they were told to leave the building by the end of October.
The two have been operating in "panic mode" ever since, they said.
"We're about to be homeless and poor in a week," Kardaras said. "I can't imagine it not being here."
Barring an 11th-hour rescue from a deep-pocketed angel — for which they still hold the slimmest of hope — Kardaras and Prokaski will bid farewell to their beloved Windy City Inn surrounded by friends at Sunday's invite-only goodbye bash.
Saturday will be the last "big day" at the bar for the general public, Prokaski said.
One last look at Windy City Inn. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]
Though they're angry at the way the sale of the building was handled, saying their own attempts to make an offer on the property were rebuffed over the years, Kardaras and Prokaski have nothing but affection for the neighborhood and their loyal patrons, who are also being uprooted.
"This place has meant so much to so many people for decades ... it's like a community center almost," Kardaras said.
"I know when your birthday is, I know when your grandkid's birthday is," she said. "We've been here for people in good times and bad, when they come and say, 'I just lost my job.'"
The bar has hosted weddings and christening parties, welcomed newcomers to the neighborhood, donated beer to block parties, and been a weekly destination for St. Ben's adult basketball league.
"It's a good neighborhood here, and we're part of that," Prokaski said.
A quintessential corner bar, Windy City Inn has been a North Center fixture for the last 25 to 30 years, after a former incarnation as a deli.
When Windy City's previous owner suffered a stroke, Kardaras, an employee at the bar, and Prokaski, a longtime regular, "scraped together everything we could" to buy the business, he said.
The two made some cosmetic changes — like papering the ceiling with empty six-packs — and ramped up the bar's reputation as an intimate music venue. But one thing stayed the same: the "amazing camaraderie" referenced in a Chicago Bar Project review.
"We use the term 'marry them off,'" Prokaski said, describing their habit of turning strangers into friends.
"I've watched people sit two barstools down from each other and realize they've been neighbors for 20 years and never met," Kardaras said. "It's really brought neighbors together."
They had hoped to recreate that vibe at a different address in the area, but have been turned away by various potential landlords.
"The property owners know the neighborhood's hot" and are sitting tight, even on vacant storefronts, Prokaski said. "It's the almighty dollar that matters."
As they count down to Windy City's final day, the two said they want memories of happier times, not bitterness, to prevail.
"Just the reminiscing is going to be incredible," Kardaras said.
"Stop in and say 'hi' and 'bye' and tell us a story."
Andrea Kardaras and Ron Prokaski, owners of Windy City Inn. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]
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