Madison Street bars, restaurants thrilled for business to return

Madison Street bars, restaurants thrilled for business to return
January 6, 2013, 9:03 pm
Share This Post

Westend Bar general manager Matt Doherty got everybody back into the hockey mood when he got to work this morning.

We were setting up this morning, the bartender getting glasses and ice ready. And first thing I played was the goal horn and Chelsea Dagger, Doherty said, referring to the Chicago Blackhawks goal celebration song. He just looked up and gave me a sly smile. I couldnt help it. Even the kitchen guys in back, I made them listen to it. They all started dancing and celebrating. So everybodys excited.

The end of a long, costly NHL lockout will get folks a little giddy.

Now that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed on how to split their hockey-related revenue, establishments along Madison can get back to acquiring theirs. Most of the bars and restaurants along the street, about a mile from the United Center, depended on revenue generated from Blackhawks home games. Now with 113 days of lockout essentially over, those businesses are looking forward to seeing their hockey crowds again.

I woke up and had about 15 texts on my phone and I thought, Oh my God! said George Lemperis, owner of Palace Grill. Lemperis always draws big Blackhawks crowds, and he estimates he lost a minimum of 75,000 during those lockout months. The only way you make it up is more games, which isnt going to happen. So we have to move forward from here.

So with that lockouts end, Lemperis said, Im beyond thrilled. Im ecstatic. The thing is, this is a destination restaurant. People come here, not just for games but after practices. Its just a win-win for everybody.

RELATED: Range of emotions emerge as NHL lockout ends

Madison Street bars and restaurants weathered the past few months as best they could. Most estimated that they were down about 20 percent of their normal revenue during a hockey season. So in hockeys absence, they improvised.

We were adventurous to meet our numbers in November and December. January was looking like a slow one, and with any luck the season will start before too long and get those calendar dates filled up, said Matthew Breen, manager at Crossroads Bar & Grill.

It was tough, but we did pretty well considering. We booked a lot more parties and had to be more creative than were used to, but definitely our numbers were down. Its nice to know well be back at our normal functioning (numbers).

Its been a tough go, and one that didnt look good at times, considering how negotiations were (or werent) going between the league and NHLPA. Even as talk of an impending agreement built this weekend, managers were skeptical.

You didnt want to get hopes up too high, Doherty said. But its going to be great now. Hockey was so down in this city for such a long time; and the way the franchise has turned around and become one of the top in the league again, Hawks fans have showed how loyal they are. The texts Im getting this morning, people are ready. That first home game, people are going to be excited.

And business is going to be getting back to normal. Its been a long wait of slow negotiations and false alarms for everyone associated with the NHL lockout, especially those whose businesses depended on it. Now the excitement can return well, maybe once its officially official.

Im waiting for the schedule to be released before I throw a party about it; Im always nervous when it says tentative agreement, Beer Bistro manager Chris Wortendyke said with a smile. We have a good following. But nothing really replaces that hockey crowd, so were happy to have it back. January and February are always the slowest months for Chicago restaurants anyway, so its coming back at the right time. Its very exciting.