The End of the Chase

There’s been a bitter little battle over the Chase Cafe, a coffee shop and event venue in the former Sheridan Beach Hotel in Rogers Park. Phil Tadros, who operated the shop until last November, concedes he cut a sweet deal on the space back in 2001: a ten-year lease at $2,000 a month for 4,000 square feet of shabby charm, including the old hotel’s lobby and ballroom. Ray Ristin, who owned the building at the time, says he thought a coffee shop would draw a hip crowd and improve the image of the place, which had been converted to a nursing home and then to apartments before he bought it for $6 million from Reza Toulabi, who owns Reza’s restaurants. But after Ristin ran into financial trouble a couple years later, the building reverted to Toulabi, and last January he sold it again. Tadros claims his lease, which was extended by Ristin to 2013, became a thorn in the side of the new owner and is the real reason he’s had to close. Never mind, Tadros says, the cease and desist order the cops handed him for violations last month (improper rear exit, no PPA license, failing to display a business license). With the cafe tying up the building’s main entrance and much of the ground floor, it would be nearly impossible to, say, sell the building for condo conversion. “The landlord wants me not to be here,” he said last weekend. “But the biggest mistake they made was to underestimate me. They looked at me and thought, he’s just a 25-year-old-kid.”

Tadros, a Columbia College dropout and former tenant in the Chase apartments, was 20 when he bought and quickly sold Don’s Coffee Club on Jarvis and then made this deal. The Chase Cafe never did particularly well, he says, but he began renting out the skylit ballroom behind the lobby for special events, and after a while he realized that was the better business. Last fall, around the time he and a partner opened a new shop, the Dollop Coffee Co., at 4181 N. Clarendon, he shut down the Chase Cafe, moving much of its furniture and equipment over to the new place. He began using the Chase Cafe and ballroom exclusively for events, and says it was rented by nonprofit social-service organizations; dance, music, and theater groups; and individuals for weddings and other private parties. But 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore, who initially supported the coffee shop, says he’s been getting complaints about loud music from the Chase Cafe for years now. “Tadros is not a good neighbor,” Moore says. “He’s been disruptive. He should go somewhere else.” Tadros said he’d be willing to leave–if the landlord would make a reasonable offer to buy out his lease.

“That’s what it’s all about,” landlord Dorothy Yassan says. According to Yassan, who managed the building for Toulabi before a company owned by her family bought it, Tadros called her in January and said he wanted $35,000 to get out. “He said he was going to have a coffee shop, but he’s been having big parties there,” she says. “I have to go to court every month to get the rent from him. He’s just doing this to make me pay as much as possible.” Although Ristin says he never had any problem with Tadros and wishes the community would “get behind Phil and help him,” Yassan says Tadros didn’t pay his apartment rent either, and that she had to start eviction proceedings to regain possession of it.

Tadros says Yassan has harassed him by shutting off heat, failing to make repairs, towing cars from parking spaces that came with his lease, and taking down his sign. The building looked like it was abandoned for most of the last year, swathed in a metal fence ordered by city inspectors. Even so, he says, he was shocked earlier this month when a sculpture by Rogers Park artist Bill Boyce that had stood outside the cafe’s entrance was suddenly destroyed. Boyce (who also has pieces in the Skokie sculpture park and in front of Ennui Cafe) says he learned about it when someone in the building called to tell him that his 500-pound work, Weapons of Mass Destruction, had been smashed and hauled off for scrap metal. Yassan admits to removing the sculpture, which she describes as an old tire attached to some kind of metal. It was on her property without permission, she says. “It looked like garbage to me.”

They wound up in court again, of course. On Tuesday a judge awarded Yassan possession; Tadros has until May 10 to get out.

Early Release

“We never really saw the script onstage,” says Laurence Bryan, director of National Pastime Theater’s abruptly canceled production of Dead Wrong, the real-life story of exonerated death-row inmate Darby Tillis. Bryan says that when Tillis first came to National Pastime looking for a one-night venue for his one-man show, Bryan convinced him it could be much more, working with him to compile the speeches he’d been giving at churches and other venues and to weave them together with blues songs using Tillis’s lyrics. It was to be National Pastime’s first production after a two-year hiatus. But after a couple of months of preparation, Bryan says, “Darby started thinking everybody was going to take his material. He objected to posters and press releases that said I adapted it, and started refusing press coverage.” Bryan says Tillis quit three times the week before the show opened, and when he did take the stage he ad-libbed. Last week, after one weekend of the show’s scheduled run, Bryan pulled the plug. “I’m just sick about it,” he says. Tillis couldn’t be reached for comment.


Tonkawa Theatre Tribe thinks its Hair can grow: they’ll jump this week from Live Bait Theater’s 60-seat space, where they’ve been dropping their drawers within arm’s reach of the audience, to the 340-seat Lakeshore Theater, Wednesday and Sunday nights only. . . . Fred Burkhart’s nest on North Halsted has been sold and he’s looking for new digs; he says the last ever Burkhart Underground Coffeehouse will be held Sunday, May 1. . . . The Ravinia Festival’s announcement that Lohan Anderson will design a restaurant to replace the Mirabelle touts Dirk Lohan’s previous work but somehow omits his highest-profile local project, the renovated Soldier Field. But not to worry–the new restaurant will have “more climate-controlled seating” and is “also expected to buffer more noise from the nearby railroad.” In another brilliant move, Ravinia will offer free lawn admission to CSO concerts for children five and under.

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