Mondays with Mike: Last call

September 12, 2016 • Posted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized by

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.


We started coming to see Billy Balducci, and we just never left.

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.


Hank On September 12, 2016 at 6:19 am

So sorry to hear this news. A long time ago, when I was still single, I spent a lot of time at a local bar. I think I know how you’re feeling. I’m a bit surprised too. Seems like the bar was always packed. I can’t believe it wasn’t profitable. I hope you’ll find a new home away from home soon. ❤️

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 11:25 am

Thanks Henry…we’ll scout out new watering holes before your next visit.

bev On September 12, 2016 at 6:51 am

Oh no! Say it ain’t so!

Marilee On September 12, 2016 at 7:12 am

I am feeling so sad. A true Irish wake is so fitting. That bar has some great stories to share. You gave it a kind farewell with your words here.

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 11:25 am

Guess it’s back to Blackie’s!

Marilee On September 12, 2016 at 10:24 pm


MePaleo On September 12, 2016 at 7:53 am

Who actually goes to Hackneys for the burger??? Hackney’s was how I met everyone in Printers Row. People that are true friends, not just bar stool acquaintances. At one time, Hackney’s kept us from moving to a different neighborhood. It was in the top 2 reasons to stay… 1) close access to the Lake, 2) Hackneys. A very special place. I’m very sad to see it go.

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 8:05 am

With you on all counts, Chuck.

piwright04gmailcom On September 12, 2016 at 8:08 am

Hackney’s is where I met a great realtor!

piwright04gmailcom On September 12, 2016 at 8:07 am

Oh wow…thanks for sharing the news. I am sad to hear of the Hackney’s transition for selfish reasons. All the best to their continued success but will so miss the bar experience in the ‘hood.

Sue Doyle On September 12, 2016 at 8:59 am

Great tribute, Mike! Well done…

Sheila A. Donovan On September 12, 2016 at 9:20 am

Along with self-checkout in grocery and drug stores, Hackney’s is cutting jobs and depersonalizing its clients. It sickens me. Just as I refuse to do self-checkout (Hey, they don’t give me a discount for doing the job!) I now refuse to give Hackney’s any more business. A sad commentary on our soon to be non-communicative world.

Margie On September 12, 2016 at 9:29 am

Clive and I share your feelings exactly. For example, we always stopped into Hackney’s when we returned from one of our trips — and often, just before we left for one as well. Hope we continue to see you and Beth somewhere in the ‘hood.

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Yeah, we often stopped on our way to the L to the airport on our way out of town, too. Enjoy your upcoming travels and we’ll see you soon, I’m sure.

monna ray On September 12, 2016 at 9:44 am

Change, it happens all the time doesn’t it? Monna

Sent from my iPad


Mike On September 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Yes, but I’m getting worse at weathering it:)

Pat Fraser On September 12, 2016 at 9:45 am

Can we get vodka somewhere else close by??? So sorry…

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 12:00 pm

We’ll rise to the occasion, Pat.

MICHAEL GRAFF On September 12, 2016 at 10:19 am

The only thing you can count on is change. That’s an unfortunate reality. Our son, and his two cousins loved the Rickshaw which was the Chinese carryout that my parents always brought into their Flossmoor home. After my parents were gone from Flossmoor, the kids talked about a proposed trip to the south suburbs especially to order out from the Rickshaw. Before that happened, we discovered that the Rickshaw finally closed. I told the kids that at least they could always remember their food as the best Chinese food in America and no one could disprove their claim. My niece corrected me and said it was the best Chinese food in the Galaxy.

Brad On September 12, 2016 at 10:20 am

A really nice obit, Mike. I will miss Hackney’s more than most. As you are aware, when I retired to Chicago in 2004 at 65 I didn’t know anyone. Thanks to Billy Balducci on my first visit, Hackney’s became my bar. In the past 12 years, everyone I know I either met at Hackney’s or through others I met there. It provided the social life I have. But I’m not blaming industry trends. Those exist but I feel it was more the owners lack of interest and care the last few years while greedily pursuing other endeavors. The sudden closing without warning to employees (long and short term) as well as customers is indicative of their neglectful attitude. I don’t welcome the unneeded new burger joint.

Eileen Caratini On September 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Well said Brad! It is sad and I will miss everyone I have met through Billy and Sean.

Susan Ohde On September 12, 2016 at 11:44 am

What?! This is horrible! Thanks for the great article Mike – and for being the one breaking the news.

Susie Ohde

Mary Janin On September 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Bravo Mike Bravo!

Mike On September 13, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Thanks Mary. You’re a big part of the memories there.

Mel Theobald On September 12, 2016 at 2:01 pm

Mike, I join Susan in saying I’m glad it was you who broke this news. It was a gift to the South Loop when Hackney’s opened. Until I retired, my neighbor who worked at the Chicago School and I had weeks of perfect attendance for which Jimmy Hebron once presented our drink tab with a gold star on it. Like you and Beth, we met countless numbers of fascinating people at the bar. My heart is breaking knowing it will now just be another foo-foo restaurant without that old-world Irish pub spirit. Please let us know if it’s back to Blackie’s or if you find a new hangout. I’ll be right behind you. Tears are flowing and I’m in shock.

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Thanks Mel.

On one hand, it’s just a bar. But it really has tied the hood together. A real institution.

Jen Ulen On September 12, 2016 at 2:09 pm

This is the saddest thing I have ever read! But as they say, all good things must come to an end. I just wish it wasn’t a true statement. I think your tribute should be read tonight as you help them close it up. Cheers to many happy memories!!

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 2:22 pm

But we’ll always have the memory of Brian Ulen running out side so he could curse about the Red Sox game. We’ll work on finding a new haunt.

David M On September 12, 2016 at 4:12 pm

Kasey’s is just a couple doors down.

Mike On September 12, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Thanks David. We get there pretty often, especially like sitting outside. And popcorn.

Lora On September 12, 2016 at 4:27 pm

Brad put it exactly right. They’ll get no more of my business. Blackies it is.

Mel Theobald On September 12, 2016 at 8:01 pm

Lora, I find it hard to disagree, but even Blackie’s tried to go upscale when it hired in a chef a couple of years ago. I love Blackie’s but the bar conversation just isn’t the same. I’m betting Mike and Beth are still looking and so are the rest of us.

Janet On September 12, 2016 at 8:23 pm

OH no! I didn’t have enough time to escape my kids, and really enjoy it with you two! I know you two will have success in finding the new hang out…you never disappoint.

Pamela On September 13, 2016 at 12:03 pm

After a ‘new’ return to Printer’s Row…Hackney’s became my place to go. On lunch days, Dave and Ken were great to discuss highlights of the day. When I was down one evening Ryan and I acted out a favorite movie scene! At the bar, we once watched the Twilight Zone series. Oh yeah…I got to make gumbo in the Hackney Kitchen for several Fat Tuesdays! Hopefully, when they reopen some of the warmth will remain!

Mike On September 13, 2016 at 12:34 pm

I’m sure it’ll be a great place–just not the same place. But we’ll manage. And I’ll stop by for burgers for sure.

Linda Miller On September 13, 2016 at 12:16 pm

That is sad on many levels. A loss of tradition, gathering place, and a character in itself.

bethfinke On September 13, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Yes, and where will our writer’s group have our reunion now? No more half-price bottles of wine, sigh…

Mondays with Mike: Thanks for reading | Safe & Sound blog On January 2, 2017 at 5:04 pm

[…] posts. And I thought you might want to know that the most popular Mondays with Mike of 2016 was Last Call, my ode to our local tavern Hackney’s—and its patrons—after it closed its doors this past […]

Leave a Response