Why did Hackney’s have to close?

May 10, 2017 • Posted in book tour, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing by

That’s my mom, Flo, and Hackney’s bartender Billy Balducci, back in the day.

You may recall the poignant post Mike wrote last year eulogizing Hackney’s, our favorite local tavern. Their seemingly sudden decision to close last September took regulars like us by surprise, and a well-written article in this week’s New City helps explain the owners’ thinking. From the article:

Back in 2008, the owners Jim and Ed Hebson and their cousin Jim Masterson, had been inspired by some of the Mexican Americans on the Hackney’s staff and opened the fast-casual Flaco’s Tacos a couple doors down. It was a rapid success, encouraging them to open more locations on the North Side.

Hackney’s was doing fine during those years, too, but the article quotes owner Jim Hebson about seeing the writing on the wall. “We’d watch the college kids stream by our door on the way to Flaco’s…”

A place like Flaco’s Tacos is much, much less labor-intensive than a bar and full service restaurant like Hackney’s, where oodles of wait staff and bartenders took our orders. So Hackney’s closed down for eight months, remodeled, and will open soon as Hax.

Ulrich Sandmeyer, of Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, used to tell customers who bought one of my books that if they wanted it autographed they could probably find me at my office. He’d point across the street at Hackney’s, and from time to time readers would show up at the bar and ask me to sign. Not anymore, though: the only “bar” at revamped Hax will be the counter where you stand in line to order burgers or sandwiches. You’ll order, find somewhere to sit, and then staff will deliver your meal to your table. The article says ten local beers will be on tap along with a “signature frozen drink,” but there won’t be any bartenders.

So it won’t be our beloved Hackney’s anymore, but eyebrows up! The article says the new Hax will be open all day, seating will include couches and booths, and they’ll be serving breakfast and coffee in the morning, too. “We want people to hang out all day here, working on their laptops,” owner Jim Hebson told the reporter.

Uh-oh. Be careful what you wish for, Jim! I do a fair amount of my writing and editing in the morning at coffeeshops. You may find me sitting comfortably on a favorite couch at the new place in the mornings as often as you used to see me perched on my favorite “office” bar stool at night.

All the events coming up to celebrate my new book are reminding me of the parties we had years ago when my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound was published. I’ll leave you here with an excerpt from Writing Out Loud from a chapter about appearing at the 2009 Printer’s Row Book Fair:

Our favorite bartender, Billy Balducci, will be tending bar at Hackney’s that day. “Flo’s coming here afterwards, right?” He doesn’t mean it as a question. It’s a command. “I’ll save her a seat.”

That’s crazy. Printers Row Book Fair is second only to St. Patrick’s Day when it comes to crowds at Hackney’s. “I’ll reserve a seat for Flo all day until she gets here,” he insists. “I’m all about Flo.”

The chapter goes on to describe my presentation at the 2009 Printers Row Book Fair and ends up at, guess where? Hackney’s.

Our crew —me and Hanni, Flo and her walker and all—thread our way through thousands of book lovers to the entry to Hackney’s.

There it is. A seat. A veritable throne, which Billy has guarded for Flo.

Eventually seats open next to Queen Mom, and we all get to hunker down around her. Predictably, Billy charms Flo, who transforms rather easily from shy and matronly great-grandmother to giggly schoolgirl. Billy is good on his word.

Kim Holly On May 10, 2017 at 7:26 pm

I just finished your new book. Fabulous!!! I loved the human (and dog) interactions.Those senior writers really are good. You did a great job of weaving their writing and histories together with your own. I’m especially glad that you included your essay about being lost in the snow when the homeless man “saved” you. It’s one of my favorite things that I’ve read on your blog. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading. Congrats!

Brad On May 10, 2017 at 7:27 pm

A really nice piece on why Hackney’s was so important to many of us. And I loved the picture of Flo and Billy. The article in “New City” left me less happy. While Jim Hebson hints at diminishing returns at Hackney’s, he fails to mention the disaster that was Flaco’s Wrigleyville when they trie to turn the concept into a full fledged restaurant. Also, they let Hackney’s physically deteriorate while not cultivating the college crowd. It could have survived with some love.

Lora On May 10, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Well put, Brad. They must have lost a bomb on that Wrigleyville location. And true, they did little to get the “college crowd”.

Benita Black On May 11, 2017 at 10:56 am

Thanks for taking me to Hackney’s, famously storied by you and Mike. Have always been somewhat envious of folks who have a “local” of their own; it’s not something that is endemic to our ‘hood, though there are many establishments of that sort. Hope you find that Hax fits you to a tee. And where is Billy Balducci currently plying his craft?

Beth On May 11, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Billy met his wife Kathleen at Hackney’s, they have been married long enough to have two beautiful children, and, alas,he has left the bartending world to take on what he calls “ a big boy job.”

Ed On May 15, 2017 at 9:54 pm

Thanks, Beth. You are a class act. First meal on me!

Beth On May 16, 2017 at 8:38 am

Ha! You can bet I’ll take you up on that one, Ed. In exchange? I’ll finally come visit your son Michael’s school with Whitney.

Gary On May 17, 2017 at 4:22 am

Adorable! Believe it or not, I’ve actually been to Hackney’s before! I absolutely loved their “bloomin’ onion” appetizer…I’ll miss it so much! So tragic…I will really miss them. On another note, I thought I’d share and to let you know about this new software that uses this high-tech optical character recognition system and essentially helps blind and visually impaired to read with this high-tech camera. I think it could be really helpful for you and your family, and I definitely recommend you check it out. Thanks for sharing, and making me reminisce about Hackney’s wonderful food!

Beth On May 17, 2017 at 6:59 am

Thanks for this –I’ll check it out. And not sure, but I think I read somewhere that Hax y is keeping the Hackney’s onion appetizer on the menu? Perhaps just a rumor….

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