Beth and I and our Printers Row neighbors are in a kind of mourning. We learned a couple days ago that Hackney’s, our corner tavern, is closing after tonight.
The owners plan to reopen it—and their signature burger will be the centerpiece of the food operation. There will be tables and you can even order beer, wine and cocktails—but you’ll order at a counter, and there will be no bar, and no bartender. For us, the bar was where the action was. Blame industry trends.
All the regulars gathered at Hackney’s on Friday night as word got out. We’d all hoped that it was a false rumor, but no, it was for real. The evening took on the feel of an Irish wake, a cocktail of celebration and sadness.
It may seem silly to mourn the end of a tavern—it definitely counts as a first world problem. But if you’re a regular reader, you know that for Beth and me and our friends and neighbors, Hackney’s has been a part of the fabric of the neighborhood and, really, a part of the rhythm of our lives.
Whenever Beth and I get home after a few days away, we drop our bags, read the mail, tend to whatever needs tended to then we head to Hackney’s—the ritual makes it official that we’re back home, where we belong.
Similarly, our friends Jim and Janet—who do a fair bit of international traveling—make it a habit to stop in on the evening of their return from overseas, no matter how jet-lagged. They have a drink or two and make themselves stay up until 10 to get back on central time.
We’ve all shared toasts on New Year’s Eve—no over-the top-celebrations—just a countdown, a sip of champagne and some kisses and handshakes.
Hackney’s brought together a whole slew of wonderful characters who you might otherwise think of as strange bedfellows. A Russian-born mathematician and computer scientist. A Manhattan native with a Ph.D. in linguistics who leans communist but works in IT for a stock trading company. Dealers in exotic camera equipment. Bee keepers. Wealth managers. Corporate lawyers. Artists. Architects. A man with cystic fibrosis who is alive because he received a double-lung and a kidney transplant and who spends every single day paying tribute to his organ donors—and to his wife, who got him through it. Gadget loving software programmers. Carlos, the retired iron worker who never misses a top jazz performance. A WGN radio news announcer. A retired art curator who used to rub elbows with the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. A group of afternoon regulars that included a woman who is a native Chicagoan and a Sox fan and managed to get along with an Alabama native who grew up loving the Cubs—and he worked as an usher at Wrigley Field. There was two-beer Tom, aptly nicknamed because he never had one more or one fewer than two beers. Ever.
Black. White. Straight. Gay. Young. Old. You name it. Of course, lots of these folks I mention have been women, some with partners, others who are completely comfortable coming to the bar solo because it’s been that kind of place.
There have been the tourists and business travelers who wander in from local hotels with whom we have long, strangers-on-a-train conversations. These things don’t happen at restaurant tables—they happen at the bar.
And I can’t forget the staff, which has always included a bunch of millennials who, as I mentioned in an earlier post, give lie to negative stereotypes about their generation. They’re hardworking, polite and personable young people putting themselves through school, supporting themselves after graduation until they land (as the famous bartender Billy Balducci put it) big-boy jobs. Others are actors and performers working to support their artistic work.
They’ve helped keep Beth and me young in spirit—and they’ve patiently helped us keep in touch with modern trends. We’re going to miss them. A lot.
Many of the staff and patrons of Hackney’s Printers Row have become dear friends, and I know we’ll stay in touch. But it’ll take more effort, and at this point in my life, I also know that no matter all of our intentions, not all of us will stay in touch the way we could when we could just stop by Hacks to see who’s there.
We’ll all do fine—we, after all, have been part of what made the place special.
But it won’t be the same.