The Ramova Theatre’s renovation, announced four years ago — before the novel coronavirus — will soon debut with a restaurant that resurrects a long-lost South Side chili recipe. In addition, the project brings in Other Half Brewing, a popular beer maker from New York.
The Ramova dates back to 1929 as a movie theater and has remained closed since 1985. The Bridgeport venue carries a special place for many locals and Tyler and Emily Nevius, co-founders of the reimagined music hall, are full of South Side pride in unveiling the venue which comes with an estimated 1,500 capacity. Officials hope to program 150 events a year. Tyler Nevius, formerly a senior finance executive in the entertainment industry who spent time in the Army, recruited the Other Half to create a beer destination in Bridgeport. Other Half Ramova will have about 80 tap lines overall, with about 20 in the taproom.
“When we when started in New York, one of our big goals was to bring IPA to the East Coast,” Other Half co-founder Sam Richardson says. “There wasn’t a lot of it at the time, and that’s kind of been our wheelhouse the whole time. We make a lot of different beer styles, but I think that the expectation is we’ll have IPAs, and in a venue like this also, we’ll be making lagers.”
It proved a delicate process, as the team from the Other Half holds a deep respect for the city’s brewing community — they didn’t want to barge into Chicago and impede local talent. But after a back and forth, the parties realized that Other Half was uniquely equipped to handle the $23 million project. The restaurant component, called Ramova Grill, closed in 2012 after an 82-year run. The food at the 20-seat restaurant will be handled by chef Kevin Hickey of the Duck Inn, a Chicago native with fond memories of the space. Tribune critic Louisa Kung Liu Chu spoke with the chef about the chili and his connection with the building. The team is reluctant to provide an opening date. The Trib reports the team is hopeful for November.
Other Half, which also has breweries in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., is already familiar with Chicago and have even established a relationship with Rare Tea Cellar, one of the most revered suppliers of gourmet ingredients to Chicago restaurants. They plan on using some of those goodies in the beer. The venue will also feature cocktails from Duck Inn partner Brandon Phillips with Sarah Loberg serving as director of food and beverage for the venue.
The brewery replaces a second-floor gym. Other half co-founder Matt Monahan describes it as a “super clean, modern looking space” with an all-glass back bar. The goal is to make enough beer to support the venue and not to brew beer to stock at Chicago liquor stores.
But Other Half’s involvement is unorthodox. Shortly before the trio of Richardson, Monahan, and Andrew Burman founded the brewery in 2014, Tyler Nevius lived in New York. His brother, who lived in the Pacific Northwest, sent him an Other Half IPA. The siblings regularly engaged in beer exchanges so they could try out-of-market brews.
Tyler Nevius, who grew up drinking Goose Island Beer Co.’s Honker’s Ale, provides a simple explanation why he wanted Other Half in the Ramova space: “They’re the best brewer, the best beer I’ve ever had,” he says.
When he eventually made the short trip to Other Half’s brewery, Tyler Nevius was impressed by the vibe, the hip-hop music, and energy. The brewery has been part of Ramova’s plans for five years. Preserving that connection between music and beer ranks high as a priority for Other Half. Plans are in motion for collaborations between artists — special beers to mark appearances at the Ramova.
Sometimes, ordering a drink at a show can be cumbersome, but Tyler Nevius says they’ll utilize a combo of mobile bars and phone ordering. Monahan says they want to listen to Chicago drinkers.
“With any brewery that you open, you know — the first few months really are dedicated to sort of dialing in and making sure that you’re able to continue what you do best,” Monahan says. “But I can’t overstate that we are really looking to have the neighborhood in the clientele through the front door really dictate what we serve.”
Other Half Ramova, 3520 S. Halsted Street, targeted for a November opening.