Tavern on Rush Closing Next Week as Owner-Landlord Relations Continue to Sour

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Tavern on Rush fans won’t get to say farewell to the Gold Coast celebrity magnet on New Year’s Eve, as Phil Stefani and company will speed up the closing, ending their 24 year-run on Wednesday, October 26, two months earlier than announced.

While the Stefani family and the building’s landlords, Fred Barbara and James Banks, are wishing each other well publically, the earlier closing date is just another sign of a contentious relationship between the parties. Stefani told Eater Chicago earlier this year that Barbara and Banks were working behind the scenes to push his company out of the popular downtown steakhouse that overlooks Rush and Division streets, across from Mariano Park. The restaurant is a product of the ‘90s when the Chicago Bulls were kings of the NBA, a place where out-of-town celebs and politicians dined. While lively in its heyday, it provided an upscale option to escape the hijinks of Rush and Division bars like The Original Mother’s and the Leg Room. It represented one of the cornerstones of the infamous nightlife area known as the Viagra Triangle.

Barbara and Banks are working on a new restaurant to replace Tavern. Renderings of the new space were drawn up before Stefani announced Tavern’s pending closure back in late August. One restaurant source says he’s surprised that Barbara and Banks didn’t resort to a lawsuit to rid themselves of Stefani, producing courtroom drama in the same vein as recent cases involving fellow Gold Coast steakhouse Maple & Ash, and downtown’s Chicago Cut.

A letter type out.
The letter posted on Thursday, October 21.
Tavern on Rush

When reached, the Stefani family didn’t comment beyond a letter from Phil Stefani posted Thursday, October 21 on Tavern’s website. The letter cites “contractual matters beyond our control” and states Tavern had a verbal agreement with their landlords to stay open until December 31.

“We are disappointed that we have to speed up our closing date,” the letter reads. “We tried to extend that but could not.”

As for the future, a rendering of the replacement restaurant shared with Eater Chicago in August shows a revamped facade along Rush Street and Bellevue Place with plenty of planters along a sidewalk patio. Tavern’s red awnings are replaced with gold/yellow coverings. The Tavern name remains on a giant vertical sign hanging above the sidewalk. It’s unclear if the name is a placeholder or an indicator of ownership’s branding plans. Barbara, in a statement to Crain’s, wrote that his team will take their time in remodeling the place in “reimagining this dining destination.” Barbara and Banks weren’t immediately reached.

Stefani has been one of Chicago’s most successful restaurant owners in recent years. His children have taken larger roles in the company, producing hits like Mad Social in West Loop and Bar Cargo in River North. While those restaurants are more modern, Tavern appeared to be preserved in amber, a reflection of the steakhouses of the ‘90s. The restaurant would be better off with a remodeling, regardless of the acrimony between Stefani, Barbara (a former trucking magnate with a colorful history), and Banks (an attorney who’s represented the city of Chicago; his uncle is a former alderman).

Beyond attracting celebs like Michael Jordan and Jon Bon Jovi, Tavern is also a magnet for controversy. Stefani and Tavern co-founder, the late Marty Gutilla, were involved in a lawsuit against each other in 2007. Gutilla, a fixture in the Gold Coast restaurant scene, died in 2018.

Stay tuned for more developments, but fans should expect a crowd at Tavern this weekend, especially with 70-degree temperatures predicted for Chicago.

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