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Montrose Saloon Is Back: What's New, What's Old, What's Both (PHOTOS)

By Patty Wetli | September 25, 2017 9:31am
 Montrose Saloon Reopens
Montrose Saloon Reopens
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IRVING PARK — The corner bar is alive and well, at least at the corner of Montrose Avenue and Richmond Street.

Montrose Saloon, after closing in May for renovations, is back in business. If the new entryway and signage weren't already dead giveaways, yes, it's true, some things have changed.

"Everything needed work," said Aaron Zacharias, managing partner of the ownership group, which also runs Fountainhead, Northman cider pub and Bar on Buena.

The facade was crumbling, the tap lines needed replacing and 70 years of accumulated grime needed scrubbing, "so that we can add new grime," he said.

Zacharias and his business partners bought the property, at 2933 W. Montrose Ave., three years ago and the bar itself a year later.

"We love it and we want to revive it," said Zacharias.

The saloon is in "soft open" phase, with some work still in progress. A major grand reopening celebration will likely take place in mid- to late October, Zacharias said.


When word first got out that renovations were underway at the saloon, the response of many long-time patrons was, "Don't change a thing!"

Zacharias and his partners tried to strike a balance between respecting the bar's history in the neighborhood, while also making necessary updates and upgrades, many of which, like the installation of new coolers and tap lines, customers won't see (but they should notice fresher beer).

A number of the most significant changes are designed to take advantage of the saloon's valuable outdoor real estate, which is one of the property's primary draws, Zacharias said.

On the patio, the team added a separate bar, with a fire pit still to come.

For recreation, the lawn now sports a pair of bocce courts — one grass, one sand. The saloon has already signed on as an American Bocce site for Wednesday night league play.

Perhaps the most eye-popping alteration is the "Green Monster," an outdoor concrete wall painted a vivid shade of green, which was among the renovations owners teased online. But truth is, Zacharias said, the wall won't be visible for long.

Seedlings have been planted in a row at the base of the Green Monster and are being trained to climb up and eventually cover the wall. The foliage isn't ivy, though.

The plants are hops, specifically Hallertau hops, a traditional Bavarian variety, Zacharias said.

As evidence of the long-term investment owners have in the saloon, Zacharias noted that hops typically take three years to mature and produce a crop.

Eventually, the saloon should have enough to harvest for a 15-barrel batch of beer, he said.

The new face of Montrose Saloon. The facade was designed by Kennedy-Mann Architecture, whose offices are just down the street. Kennedy-Mann is also the firm behind the recent renovation of the Davis Theater. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

The patio bar. Because owners were eyeballing a fall re-opening, Zacharias said they opted not to fully equip the bar this season. A late-September heat wave caught them by surprise. "Didn't see that coming," he said of the 90-degree temperatures.

The saloon's new bocce courts: natural grass on the left, sand mixed with crushed oyster shells on the right. Teams are still forming for a Wednesday night league.

A hops plant, being trained to grow up the Green Monster.

Hops grow 10- to 15-feet tall and will eventually cover the wall.


Owners took a "hands off" approach to some of the saloon's quirkier decor elements.

"The bottled windows must stay," Zacharias said of the bar's highly unusual, quite possibly one-of-a-kind, pair of glass block windows presumably made from beer bottles.

The windows' "weird wall" — an odd patchwork of brick and paint — has also been preserved.

"If you tear it down, it's gone forever," said Zacharias.

The light fixtures over the bar are another holdover, in large part because they have such a odd back story.

"They were donated 20 or 30 years ago to pay off an extended bar tab," said Zacharias.

Lest any current patrons get the bright idea that they can barter for beer, he was quick to add, "Light fixtures are not accepted as currency — let's put that out there."

Owners wouldn't dream of replacing these odd windows or the "weird wall."

What a bright idea — a patron once paid off a bar tab by donating these light fixtures.


If the "new" Montrose Saloon could be said to have a motto, it would be, "The same, only different."

Patrons will be bellying up to the same bar, only it's been moved to give customers more elbow room. The saloon will still host live music, but the stage is now in the front of the bar instead of the rear.

The gorgeous maple wood floors have been underfoot all along, just covered in multiple layers of tile.

A back bar is new to Montrose Saloon, but was salvaged by owners from the former Jury's in North Center, which is now the Northman.

Most importantly, beer is still the reason the saloon exists. But the focus now will be on "hyperlocal" brands, Zacharias said.

Of the bar's 16 taps, 12 will be devoted to Chicago brands. Brews from Aleman, Begyle, Dovetail, Half Acre and Spiteful will always be on draft.

"We want to be the local tap room," Zacharias said.

Let there be light, but not too much. The saloon is a little brighter but not completely open to the outside world.

The term "local tap" extends to the beers, most of which are brewed within a couple miles of the bar.

The wood floors were buried under layers of tile.

Patio seating upgrade straight from Munich. Flip the benches over and check out the Hofbrauhaus stamp.

A "new" back bar was salvaged from Jury's in North Center.

Picture a music "stage" in place of this table and chairs.