Viagra Triangle changes: Carmine upgrades, Tavern on Rush closure

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The change could shock the systems of longtime customers of restaurants that surround Mariano Park. The area has a long history of dining, and most of the establishments operating there have been around for nearly three decades. While some will mourn the changes, others will welcome a new vibe.

“It’s the Gold Coast of old, but it just needs a facelift,” said Nick Lombardo, chief operating officer of Rosebud Restaurant Group, which operates Carmine’s. “We all know that.”

The building at 1043 N. Rush St. that houses Carmine’s was recently sold to Chicago-based L3 Capital, which plans to tear it down and rebuild it. Carmine has signed a long-term lease with L3 to reopen in a larger, more open space in the new two-story building, Lombardo said. It plans to close the restaurant in January, depending on when L3 obtains the necessary permits, and to reopen in the summer of 2024. Current Carmine employees will transfer to other Rosebud locations after the restaurant closes, said said Lombardo.

L3 representatives did not respond to requests for comment, but Lombardo said Carmine’s new space will have a very open feel. The remodeled restaurant will occupy 15,000 square feet, an increase from its current 10,000. Carmine’s first-floor bar will occupy one of the building’s storefronts, and the upper floor will house a “monster terrace” that overlooks Rush Street, the main restaurant, another bar, and a private dining space.

The change is appropriate, Lombardo said. Carmine opened in the early 1990s. Over the next decade, the area surrounding Mariano Park would earn its nickname the Viagra Triangle for older men who flocked to restaurants to woo younger women and vice versa.

A story published by Crain in 2005 described the scene at the time.

Men, usually executives or bankers with big paychecks, came to restaurants alone, buying drinks for younger women. Men sometimes put their wedding rings in their pockets or admitted they were looking for their next wife. The story described the area as “Chicago’s ultimate intersection of beautiful women, wealthy old men, and expensive cars. If the gods smile, the little blue pill might come in handy.

A 53-year-old Tavern on Rush customer told Crain’s at the time that women had asked him what he did for a living. “’I’ve been in business for 23 years and I make $250,000 a year.’ As if thinking that might sound a little low for the coin, he quickly adds, “That’s net income.” ”

One woman told the Crain reporter: “If you are a woman under 40 in these places, you are fresh bait.

Of course, the clientele has changed since this article was published nearly 20 years ago, a change that the pandemic has helped to accelerate. Some regulars have left the neighborhood and others don’t come to town as often due to work-from-home standards. Conventions and business dinners have still not returned in force. Lombardo said some snowbirds stopped returning to Chicago during the summer. Overall, the crowd on a Saturday night is more likely to be in their 30s and 40s than in their 60s and 60s, he said.

“They’re always looking for what we do, which is good Italian food, and they want to be able to hang out somewhere where you can be seen and see everything,” he said. There are still “Lamborghinis and Bentleys coming down the street. Now it’s the young techies who drive them rather than the old banker.

Modern steakhouses, such as nearby Maple & Ash, indicate the area’s potential future vibe and ability to appeal to the younger generation.

It remains unclear what will happen to the Tavern on Rush space at 1031 N. Rush St. The restaurant announced last week that it would be closing after 25 years in business because its lease expires at the end of the year. The owners, who property records list as trucking magnate Fred B. Barbara and Chicago attorney James J. Banks, did not respond to requests for comment.

Gibsons Restaurant Group operates three establishments on the Triangle, including Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, Hugo’s Fish Bar & Fish House and Luxbar. Chairman Steve Lombardo – no relation to Nick Lombardo of Rosebud – said he expects the improvements to bring more business to the neighborhood and increase competition.

“It will force us to step up our game,” he said.

Although Gibsons and Hugo’s, which opened in 1989 and 1997 respectively, have both undergone renovations in recent years. The group plans to add balconies on the second floor to follow the expansive balcony planned by Carmine.

It’s hard to believe such a drastic change is brewing there, said Blast Marketing CEO John McCartney, who at one point handled marketing for most of the restaurants surrounding the park.

“It’s a disappointment. I mean, it’s the Viagra Triangle. What a great name. And what is amazing is that people have agreed to use this term,” he said. “When Viagra came out, nobody wanted to admit they had taken it.”

But the area’s legendary restaurants are gone. There was Mister Kelly’s, which hosted artists such as Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Morton’s The Steakhouse also opened its original location at 1050 N. State St. in 1978, but it succumbed to the 2020 COVID closures. Morton founder Arnie Morton also had a restaurant called Arnie’s in the area from the 1970s until it closed in 1993. .

The good news for regulars or fading nostalgics: there’s still time to experience it before Carmine’s and Tavern on Rush close.

“This corner is going to be empty for a good year and a half, which is going to be very weird,” Nick Lombardo said. “Now is the time to step in and relive the glory days of the 90s.”

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