It’s a new year, which means it’s time for resolutions (fewer carbs! more water!), positive energy, and credit card bills. But before 2017 rides into the sunset, let’s remember a few of the great restaurants that Chicago lost last year.
2017 seemed like a particularly bad year for restaurants, and while some of this may be confirmation bias or false accounting, it also could be a true bubble bursting. Restaurant owners and chefs have complained incessantly about labor shortages, both kitchen and front-of-house, and with more and more competition, it seems inevitable that some good spots just won’t make the cut.
The hardest loss for many Chicago food geeks was Vera, the Liz and Mark Mendez-helmed restaurant that brought great, simple Spanish food and a huge sherry selection to the West Loop. It closed back in July, and I instinctively still try to make reservations there at least once a month. Another creative, comfy, mid-priced restaurant that never failed to satisfy was Yusho—its two locations shuttered three weeks apart from each other. These higher-end neighborhood joints (see also: Ruxbin, Three Aces, Katsu, Green Zebra, Trench) are part of what makes Chicago’s dining scene so approachable, and every time we lose one, it’s a blow.
Fine dining was hit particularly hard this year, with Chicago losing a serious chunk of Michelin-starred muscle. First to go was 42 Grams, the tiny Uptown restaurant that could (or couldn’t, as it turns out). Intro closed, depriving the city of a creative outlet for young chefs. Tru fell after 19 years, leaving a real gap in the city’s high-end service scene. And at the end of the year, the worst of them all, Grace: After a dispute between ownership and the kitchen, the place sunk quickly, like a ship holed below the waterline. Chicago's remaining three-Michelin-star restaurant, Alinea, appears to still be going strong. But after the lightning evaporation of Grace, who knows?
Lest you think this was just a tough year for fancypants foodie spots, casual neighborhood restaurants (including some old ones) took a beating. There won’t be much of a Greektown soon, as Pegasus closed in December, following the Parthenon late last year. The Chicago Brauhaus is gone. Johnny’s Grill died. Paramount Room closed its doors. Just last week, we lost all locations of Glazed & Infused (R.I.P. maple bacon longjohn) and Ampersand closed in Lincoln Square.
So what’s a diner to do? Don’t put off that dinner date. If there’s a neighborhood restaurant you love, make like a Chicagoan and go early and often. January is usually one of the slowest months for restaurants (hence Restaurant Week), so if you don’t want your favorite to give up the ghost, get out there in the cold, and maybe tell some friends.
Don’t worry, at least we’ll never run out of poke shops… right?