WICKER PARK — Hundreds of people packed Wicker Park Tavern on Sunday to celebrate the final night of a neighborhood bar that has cultivated a strong sense of community over the decades.
"I spend more time here than my own home" and "This was my Cheers" were among the farewell messages that patrons scrawled on a hanging banner.
Located at 1958 W. North Ave., the sports bar — which went by the name Tavern — opened in 2005. Before that, it was Borderline.
The building, which also includes the recently shuttered Cafe Absinthe at 1954 W. North and the Annex upstairs dance club, which closed earlier this month, has been owned by the Menetti family since 1979.
The bar's closure will end a century-long run at the corner of North and Damen avenues. The building was a saloon in the early 1900s, according to a 1915 Sanborn insurance map.
Tefik "Teddy" Menetti, the second-generation owner of Tavern, was known as "Coat Check Teddy" and handled the coat check when his dad Sam Menetti owned Borderline and upstairs dance club Red Dog, according to Torres Evans.
"It was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone," said Evans, who's been coming to the bar for at least 20 years, since its Borderline days.
In 2010, Dana Fountain met her husband, Chris Fountain, when they were both hanging out at Tavern.
"So many industry people come here," Fountain said.
Since the bar was open until 4 a.m. most nights and 5 a.m. on Sunday, it attracted a strong contingent of bar and restaurant workers who came by when their shifts ended.
Bucktown resident Victoria Salamanca met her husband Gerardo Salamanca at the bar several years ago.
"I was happily divorced at the time. This was my go-to spot," Victoria Salamanca said.
Menetti declined to comment on the closure, but through a spokesman, he confirmed that he has leased the entire building at 1954-1958 W. to one tenant and that its future will be as a retail storefront and not a bar.
A confidentiality agreement with the new tenant has prevented Menetti from talking about what is replacing the bar, the Menetti spokesman said.
Given that Tavern's late-hour liquor license does not expire until November 2018 and a city spokeswoman told DNAinfo that Tavern's business and liquor licenses are both in good standing, it's unlikely that Menetti would have closed his business without having another tenant lined up.
Salamanca, who owns empanada-focused restaurant Cafe Tola in the former Hot Doug's in Avondale, said that Menetti's apparent decision to lease the building to a retail tenant rather than operate a bar is "very understandable."
"There is so much liability. Look around, every single person in here is drinking alcohol right now. You need to be on top of everything all the time. He [Menetti] probably wanted stability," Salamanca said.
For Bucktown resident Mark Gill, the kindness that the Tavern staff showed him after he was a victim of a violent crime cemented his role as a regular patron.
In October 2015, while walking to his car on nearby Concord Place, Gill was shot and blinded in his left eye by a robber with a pellet gun.
Gill said he came to Tavern because it was the closest place open.
"They helped me call 911, everyone here was so nice," said Gill, who never had a regular bar he'd visit until that incident.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said he was not aware that Tavern was closing for good until last week.
"Changes happen often in neighborhoods and while this one is a surprising closing, it is a trend to see [bars] switch to retail," Waguespack said.
Just up the street, the former Cans bar closed in 2013 and eventually became a Nike store. And years before that, Mad Bar and Bar Louie — a popular bar and dance club, respectively — were converted into retail storefronts. The Farewell Board at Tavern. Hundreds came by to say goodbye. [Photos by DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
The two storefronts on the left half of this building will become a To-Be-Announced retail storefront.