Tavern on the Green

Six years ago Richard Mott won a contract from the Chicago Park District to run a concession stand in a facility planned for Montrose Harbor. Mott thought the beautiful locale, on a peninsula that juts into the harbor, was too good for a run-of-the-mill snack shop, and luckily for him, the facility was never built. Three years later Mott opened two fine-dining restaurants on Park District land: Jackson Harbor Grill, located in an old coast guard house in Jackson Park, and North Pond Cafe, on the edge of the pond in Lincoln Park between Diversey and Fullerton. With its quality American cuisine and classy decor, the Lincoln Park restaurant was a hit, and now, after persistent lobbying of Park District executives, Mott has cut a new deal for the spot on Montrose Harbor. He’ll cover construction costs for the new Park District building in exchange for a free long-term lease on its restaurant space; Bluefin, a $2 million seafood restaurant designed by the architectural firm Greene & Proppe Design Inc., is scheduled to open in late summer 2001.

The two-story structure will resemble a New England boathouse, with a facade of stone and weathered clapboard and numerous windows to take advantage of the view. The first floor will be divided between the harbormaster’s office and storage space for the restaurant, while the second floor will encompass a dining room seating 100 and an outdoor patio seating another 60. The dining room will be open for both lunch and dinner, with tablecloth service at night, and entrees will range from $16 to $25. “We’re not trying to be Le Bernadin here,” says Mott, referring to the pricey Manhattan seafood restaurant. A take-out counter will sell items like crab legs and catfish sandwiches, and Mott promises, “Nothing available for carryout will be more than nine or ten dollars.” He says the restaurant will emphasize environmentally friendly seafood. Shark, swordfish, and Chilean sea bass will be excluded from the menu because of environmental concerns, and Mott hopes to organize special dinners in conjunction with the Shedd Aquarium to familiarize people with the restaurant’s philosophy.

Since Bluefin’s anticipated opening is almost a year away, Mott hasn’t gotten around to the tricky business of choosing a chef, but he plans a national search. Because Montrose Harbor has so much available parking, he doesn’t expect access to the restaurant to be a problem; weather permitting, he’d like to have water taxis ferry customers across the harbor to the restaurant, and he’s talking to the CTA about rerouting the Montrose bus so that it will stop nearer to the harbor.

Next Cutback

Next Theatre Company will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, but for the first time in recent memory it will cut its season in half, from four plays to two: a new translation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House starring Si Osborne and Lia Mortensen, and artistic director Kate Buckley’s stage adaptation of The Incident, the 1967 cult film about a couple of punks menacing the occupants of a stalled subway car. The company is still trying to retire about $26,000 in accrued debt and decided to scale back the anniversary season to avoid any more red ink. “That’s a very manageable amount,” says Robert Scogin, the company’s new managing director, “and we hope to have it all paid off by the time the season opens in February.” He’s budgeting the upcoming season at about $206,000. “We didn’t want to overextend ourselves this year, so we could be sure the two shows we do are of the highest quality.”

Scogin has no experience managing a theater, but he comes to the Evanston company after a long career as an actor and director. He and Buckley have been friends for 16 years, and the position has been open since Peter Rybolt resigned in spring 1999. The new managing director faces numerous challenges: Next Theatre had only about 600 subscribers last season, about two-thirds what it needs for a decent revenue base. Though Northlight Theatre has put down roots at the nearby North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Scogin says Next Theatre’s audience remained solid. Unfortunately, the company has been performing in the same 179-seat theater for two decades now, and the city of Evanston, which owns the building, has made only a few cosmetic improvements over the years.

Goodbye to “Broadway”

Four months ago the Nederlander Organization and SFX Theatrical Group announced that they would collaborate on “Broadway in Chicago,” a season of 15 attractions at the Shubert, Oriental, and Palace theaters. But one of the shows, Sundance Radio Theater, was canceled, and now The Rhythm Club, scheduled for December at the Oriental, has been dropped from the lineup as well. The musical, about the swing-music craze in Hamburg during the Third Reich, is now playing in a workshop production at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. It was supposed to stop here for four weeks before moving on to New York, but the producers decided to take it straight to Broadway–you know, the one in New York–saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in production costs and possibly avoiding more of the decidedly mixed reviews the show has picked up in Arlington (the Washington Post described it as Babes in Arms meets Schindler’s List). SFX and Nederlander managed to recover quickly by booking another pre-Broadway musical with Nazis, a stage adaptation of the Mel Brooks classic The Producers, into the Palace in February. But the “Broadway in Chicago” organization, whose eight-play package can run as high as $567, could have trouble maintaining its credibility with subscribers if announced attractions continue to vanish.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.