Buy you a beer at Lake and Austin?

Opinion: Columns

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Maybe you've driven by it so often that it's now invisible to you. Or maybe, like me, you've driven by it, ridden a bike by it as a 10-year-old with a newspaper route, and always been fascinated by its classic look gone to ruin through decades of inattentiveness.

This is the corner of Lake and Austin where the First National Bank was built to last back in the 1920s, but was brought low very fast by the Great Depression. Now almost 100 years old, this stone edifice on the southwest corner soldiered on. 

For better than 20 years, it was the Williams Funeral Home, actually owned by the grandfather of one of our Journal colleagues. By the late 1950s, the funeral home had relocated to the north side of Lake Street and the bank building slid into anonymity, being used successively as medical offices, a credit card processing company and, I think, as the offices of trade magazine publishers.

Spent part of Friday afternoon inside the currently-being-gutted interior. My first time actually in the building. Gone are the crappy dropped ceilings, most of the two-story-tall glass block windows, gone even is a portion of the floor that was added to fill in the bank mezzanine and create two full, boring floors. And what is revealed is just the sort of lovely and ornate detail an early 20th century bank, built to last the ages, would have included. 

The construction work is being done by Greg Sorg and his work crews, though normally they'd be at work repairing and maintaining the many apartment buildings Sorg's Pioneer Property Advisors have gathered into a portfolio on the West Side and South Side of Chicago. Eighty percent of what Sorg owns is in Austin, within a mile of Lake and Austin. 

He bought the commercial building some five years ago and has been waiting for the right tenant to come along, someone who appreciated the bones of the building, someone who felt the vibe of an intersection mostly hurried through, someone who saw the potential in running a business welcoming both Oak Parkers and Austinites. 

It was in the years that Sorg worked for Mike Kelly at the old and still profoundly missed Park National Bank that he "got the passion for Austin." For a long time now, he said, "people just write-off Austin. It is a vibrant community. People share the same hopes and dreams, but they just get dismissed."

With a small assist from Oak Park's village government — a $50,000 grant and a sales-tax-sharing pact — Sorg has now lined up two more Oak Parkers who will, once the construction is done, open a brewpub in the old bank. The bank's old vault, at least what is left of it, will become a cooler room for the brewery. That's more interesting than the many years its thick metal walls made it a perfect x-ray room for the docs. A rooftop deck with views to the Loop will be added.

All of this will be done by November, says Sorg, though he allows this is different than reclaiming an apartment building and the project could stretch out a bit. 

"We need to get Oak Parkers' minds around this corner," he says. The arrival in recent years of the park district's gymnastics center, Pete's Fresh Market, School of Rock and now the Historical Society — all on East Lake Street — are encouraging signs that Oak Parkers are starting to look again at this wonderful part of town.

Drive by. The new and expansive windows go in soon. Before long the large beer bottle chandelier will be hanging proudly. This is ground-up Oak Park entrepreneurial pioneering. Don't fixate on 18-story buildings or the efficacy of a Taco Bell on Madison. 

The brewpub at Lake and Austin. That's the Oak Park story.

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Natalie Rauch Kelly  

Posted: April 24th, 2018 10:49 AM

Any updates on the brewpub's progress? This column is just shy of a year old. At last June's village board meeting, trustees unanimously approved an amendment to the sales tax rebate sharing agreement, which extended the completion due date of the restaurant from June 30, 2017, to March 31, 2018. It's April so another update is probably in order.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 24th, 2017 11:20 AM

Plenty of parking on the Chicago side of the street. South of the viaduct on Corcoran Street. People shopping on the Mall park and walk further than this. A sure test of the Oak Park spirit.

Anna Ahronheim  

Posted: July 23rd, 2017 7:56 PM

Regarding parking -- There is plenty near Austin and Lake, but who needs parking near a brew pub? (Drunk drivers?) Austin and Lake is a public transit hub: The L, 3 bus lines, and a bike share station. I look forward to walking to walk there.

Tom Alan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2017 4:01 PM

Well Maureen, I appreciate your wink. Thank you. I just think that the comments that taco bell will bring drinking crowds to the area and then going to this page and saying this is great is hypocritical. I know it wasn't you that did that but just proving a point. I hope you have a great day. No sarcasm today. lol

Kline Maureen  

Posted: May 8th, 2017 5:21 PM

to clarify, my comment below refers to Taco Bell, not the Brew Pub. But I doubt the Brew Pub will be allowed to say open until 2 AM during the week anyhow.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: May 8th, 2017 5:20 PM

Tom - perhaps your sarcasm meter needs some adjusting. :wink: At any rate, one solution would be to change to zoning laws to shorten the business hours for this type of business - or at least for the drive through. Maybe have them close by midnight or something. Sure they'll squawk a bit - but I'm curious to know how much it pays for them to remain open those long hours.

Tom Alan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2017 12:30 PM

Maureen- But the this will be worse, it will put drunk drivers on the streets of Oak Park. I guess that doesn't matter as long as they are not eating bean burritos and crop dusting the community, Let them drink and drive and kill a bunch of people. Yeah let's get this bar built and taco bell should not be.

Carol Threlkeld  

Posted: May 6th, 2017 11:24 AM

I'm really excited about this project! I always thought that building would make a perfect brewpub, and I can't wait for it to open. My hope is that we continue to see this kind of development on the east and north side of OP. Congratulations guys!

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: May 5th, 2017 11:34 PM

I don't know how others feel about this - but it's my understanding the City of Chicago would be more than happy to extend their blue light cameras just pass the border of Austin into Oak Park. It makes their job easier. May be something to think about with new development going on. And before everyone gets all up in arms - I'm just being realistic.

Andrew Wicklow from More west than OP  

Posted: May 5th, 2017 5:49 PM

Congrats to Greg and his Crew! Can wait to spend my whole paycheck there! Then Uber home.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: May 5th, 2017 5:05 PM

@Tom Alan - but there are two key differences. Taco Bell is merely near Austin, while the brew pub is actually on Austin. That gives the brew pup considerable "edge cred" over Taco Bell. Second, there's no drive thru at the brew pub. I'm sure if there were you see way more angst over the whole thing. There may be other differences but those two the most important.

Tom Alan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2017 2:56 PM

I love how people are all up in arms about Taco bell because it could bring in the late night drinking crowd, but a bar at Austin and Lake, sure, let's do it. Ridiculous.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: May 5th, 2017 8:52 AM

Oh Dan - goshdogit - was so hoping you could make it through one op-ed piece without getting an unnecessary dig about Albion or Madison St. Oh you were so close to posting a happy shiny article about positive development in OP.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: May 5th, 2017 12:04 AM

Woot! Woot! And yes, what about the parking?

Kitty Conklin from OAk Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2017 10:27 PM

I wish them the best of luck in making a go of the brew pub. My huge fear is that the lack of parking will not work in their favor.

Martin A. Berg from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2017 7:22 PM

So glad that it's Greg Sorg developing this corner. He's been a positive force in the Austin residential real estate market for some time, and I'm glad to see him pursuing this new effort on the commercial side. If Greg's doing it, it'll be done right.

Charlie Meyerson from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2017 5:35 PM

I can't wait. This part of town needs more eateries.

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: May 2nd, 2017 4:20 PM

We are so excited to see a new business in northeast Oak Park!

Jack Davidson  

Posted: May 2nd, 2017 3:40 PM

I own the house closest to the forthcoming brewpub. To say that we are excited is an understatement!

Chris Costello  

Posted: May 2nd, 2017 3:01 PM

Wouldn't Kinslagher which is also ground-up Oak Park pioneering (and did so without grants or tax incentives) be the real Oak Park Story?

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