For the first time since the 1920s, alcohol was served along the historically dry stretch of 95th Street. A soft opening of the restaurant at 2105 W. 95th St. was held to celebrate the change.
"This is the first legal drink anyone has had here in 80 years," said Daniela Barraco, a manager of the Italian restaurant chain that has six locations. "If anything, it brings more life to 95th Street."
The new cafe offers a full menu despite its small size. There are 50 seats in the restaurant, and 10 spots at the modest bar — which offers a more limited alcohol selection than Barraco's larger locations, Barraco said.
The cafe will be open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. The restaurant opened to sell food about three weeks ago, she said.
"The initial plan for this whole place was just to make it a banquet hall," Barraco said of the building that was originally built as a funeral home and last served as a Chicago Public Library branch.
A fire that decimated Barraco's flagship location down 95th Street in Evergreen Park changed those plans, Barraco said. The fire on Sept. 24 at 3701 W. 95th St. started in a roaster, and the restaurant has been closed ever since. The family is planning to rebuild.
Many of Barraco's catering and delivery orders were made in the kitchen in Evergreen Park. After the fire, those orders moved to the chain's Mount Greenwood restaurant, but the kitchen at 3047 W. 111th St. was never designed to handle such capacity, Barraco said.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) said Wednesday he reached out to the Barraco family in the aftermath of the fire. The alderman had already been working with the family to convert the former library to a banquet facility.
"This whole northern end of Beverly, the closest spot [to host a small banquet or party] is 115 Bourbon Street" in suburban Merrionette Park, O'Shea said.
He petitioned neighbors and worked with Barraco's to change the law forbidding alcohol for the banquet facility. He had quietly suggested the addition of a small cafe then, but the idea didn't gain much traction until the need for a larger kitchen arose after the fire, O'Shea said.
Owner Nick Barraco originally envisioned a much smaller "warming kitchen" that would strictly serve banquets. Instead, the restaurant group built a full-service kitchen in the small stone building on the eastern edge of the property.
The cafe is in this building too. It will eventually connect to the larger building on the western edge of the property that will host banquets and parties for roughly 300 people, Daniela Barraco said.
Construction on the banquet facility will begin once the new Evergreen Park location is complete — hopefully sometime in July. Once Evergreen Park is reopen and the banquet facility is finished Daniela Barraco said the cafe will be reevaluated.
If successful, it will stay open. But if sales fall short of expectations or neighbors have an adverse reaction to the cafe, it will close to the public and be used strictly for small parties as well as a place to have appetizers and drinks before a wedding or larger event, Barraco said.
For his part, O'Shea hopes the cafe remains open to the public. He urged Beverly residents to support the new location and believes that this bright spot could attract more restaurants and other new developments to 95th Street.
"I'm really excited. The Barraco family really made this a beautiful building," he said.
Melissa Varghese lives one block away from the new cafe and was enjoying a break from a self-induced Prohibition Wednesday night. The new mom seemed delighted to be having a drink as her newborn slept quietly nearby.
"It's beautiful. It's very cool, exactly what our neighborhood needs," Varghese said.
She scoffed at the idea of the a bait-and-switch with Barraco's initially talking about opening a banquet facility only to change course and open a full kitchen and cafe after the fire in Evergreen Park.
"Life changes," Varghese said. "And in this instance, it is a great change."