One of Chicago’s best-known restaurant groups plans to move into a historic, Schlitz-built structure on the city’s North Side that has functioned at various times as a tavern, speakeasy, illegal off-track betting parlor, brothel and bowling alley.
Boka Restaurant Group has leased the building at 3325 N. Southport Ave., the former home to Southport Lanes, according to Cook County property records.
The lease, signed July 1, means a high-profile operator will take over the space where the Southport Lanes bowling alley, bar and restaurant closed last year after 98 years in business, causing an emotional outpouring from the Lakeview neighborhood.
Boka Restaurant Group is known for high-end restaurants including the eponymous Boka as well as Girl & the Goat and GT Prime Steakhouse.
Boka co-founder Rob Katz declined to comment.
It’s an example of a successful, well-backed restaurant group pouncing on a unique space during a time when the real estate and restaurant industries are struggling to overcome the effects of COVID-19, which has shut down or hindered many businesses since March 2020.
In July, Boka confirmed plans to move into the sprawling former Bottled Blonde bar and restaurant space in River North. Also in July, a Girl & the Goat restaurant opened in Los Angeles. It was the first restaurant outside Chicago for Boka and chef Stephanie Izard.
Southport Lanes closed in September 2020. Steve Soble, one of the owners of the business and the two-story building it was in, said at the time one or more retail tenants were being sought to move into the 8,317-square-foot building.
Soble and Howard Natinsky had owned the Southport Lanes business since 1991.
The Southport Lanes owners later talked of trying to reopen the business. Neighbors’ hopes of a reopening ended in July, when all of Southport Lanes’ belongings — including bowling lanes, billiard tables and the large bar top — were put up for sale in an online auction.
Soble confirmed the space has been leased but declined to confirm Boka is the tenant. He said having a lease lined up was the deciding factor in permanently closing Southport Lanes.
“Because we had a deal in place, it became obvious that it would make more sense to shut down and auction off everything,” Soble told CoStar News. “Looking at how hard it is to restart a business, it would have been a herculean task for us.”
In September, the building’s owners took out a construction loan of just over $2 million from Lakeside Bank, county records show.
Soble said everything has been cleared from the building “so the tenant can do whatever they want with the space.”
Soble remains an owner of Burnt City Brewing, District Brew Yards and Seven Ten Social, a bowling alley in the Hyde Park neighborhood that reopened Thursday.
Boka’s arrival will be the latest chapter for a building that was among several built by Schlitz and other brewers in the late 1800s and early 1900s as so-called tied houses, or taverns that sold only beers made by the brewers that owned them.
The building, originally called the Nook, functioned as a speakeasy with a brothel above it during Prohibition, and Mayor Anton Cermak was known to hold weekly poker games in a secret room, according to a history of the building from the bar’s longtime owners.
Bowling lanes were added in 1922, and pins were still set by hand when Southport Lanes closed last year.
About The Boka Group:
Founded by Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm in 2002, Boka Restaurant Group is one of the premier chef-driven restaurant groups in the country. Anchored by partnerships with five of America’s great chefs, Giuseppe Tentori, Stephanie Izard, Chris Pandel, Lee Wolen, and Gene Kato, BRG has distinct culinary experiences, each of them individually crafted and conceptually unique.
Restaurants currently include the following:
[Part of this news story is from CoStar News]