Madison Street bars, restaurants thrilled for business to return

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Madison Street bars, restaurants thrilled for business to return

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.

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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.

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Spencer Abbott enjoyed his short stint in Rockford, which came after he was acquired by the Blackhawks in February 2015. At the time, he thought staying here was his most likely plan.

Then he got an offer Frölunda in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘why not give it a shot? Maybe it’ll be a good experience and bring it back with me,’” said Abbott on Monday. “It was worth it, for sure. I have no regrets.”

Abbott, who’s back with the Blackhawks, had never been to Europe prior to getting that Frölunda offer. But his first trip across the pond was a good one as Abbott was part of Frölunda’s run to its Swedish and Champions hockey league titles. Abbott had 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 regular-season games. Abbott got plenty out of the games, but not nearly as much as he did in the team’s training camp.

“The first month and a half you’re over there, you’re there from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day. I think over here there’s a rule against being here for more than 3-4 hours, but not over there. It’s like a 9-5 job for a month and a half, a lot of working out, a lot of bike riding. So for me, that was good because I had never been in that kind of shape before,” said Abbott, who added he’s trying to incorporate some of that into his routine here. “Training camps here are hard but they’re just different over there. There’s a lot of ice, bigger ice [overseas], so they really condition you. So my conditioning may be a bit better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

As much as Abbott loved his time in Sweden, he ultimately wanted to be back in the NHL. So when the Blackhawks offered him a one-year deal, he jumped at it. He’s gotten off to a good start this training camp, scoring a few goals in the team’s early scrimmages.

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out, to be honest. I’m 28 and pretty early in the summer they were showing interest,” Abbott said. “This is one for the places I really wanted to come, because I did l really like the organization when I was here for that brief period of time. Now I get the full effect as long as they’ll have me. It’s such a good organization.”

Abbott probably could have kept playing overseas but he wanted another chance in the NHL. He’s happy it’s once again coming in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“It’s overwhelming. There are so many places to play hockey nowadays in Europe. There are tons of leagues over there. But it didn’t interest me,” he said. “I wanted to come back and give it one more shot.”

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Duncan Keith was already deemed unlikely to play in many, if any, Blackhawks preseason games, when training camp opened. As of now, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the first few.

Keith will probably not play in the Blackhawks’ first four preseason games, assistant coach Kevin Dineen said following Monday’s training camp sessions. As for whether or not Keith will play in any, that’s still up in the air.

“That’s a question that Dunc and the medical staff, Stan [Bowman], Joel [Quenneville], we’ll all get to that. I wouldn’t foresee him certainly in these first four games. I would say that’s not going to happen,” Dineen said. “We’ll let him keep progressing on his timetable that he’s on now.”

Keith has been participating in one practice each day but has not been in any of the scrimmages. Assistant coach Mike Kitchen said Keith has asked to skate in the team’s second practice each day – each session is about 20-25 minutes – but the Blackhawks have told him no. As of now, both Dineen and Kitchen figure Keith will be ready for the regular-season opener but the Blackhawks will continue to be prudent with him.

“He’s out there wheeling around, doing well,” Dineen said. “We had a good chat with him today. He feels like he has a lot of jump but not a lot of stamina right now. We’ll continue the way we’ve handled it so far. We’ll keep moving forward that way.”

Players returning soon

Patrick Kane, who was at the United Center on Monday afternoon, will skate with the Blackhawks on Tuesday. Defenseman Michal Kempny will also join Tuesday’s sessions. Dineen said Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin are expected to join the Blackhawks on Friday.

Neither Kane nor Kempny are expected to play Wednesday vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

Pokka is back

Defenseman Ville Pokka, who played for Team Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, skated with the Blackhawks on Monday.

“Anybody coming back from Toronto over the last two weeks is going to have a heck of a lot of confidence,” Dineen said. “A young kid like that getting the chance to represent his country on the international stage is a great honor and a pick-me-up heading into training camp and the season.”

First cuts made

The Blackhawks made their first round of cuts on Monday, sending Radovan Bondra, John Dahlstrom, Nathan Noel and Roy Radke to their respective junior teams. The active roster is now at 57 players.