Tavern at the Park to close in March

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

After nearly 12 years as a New Eastside staple, the Tavern at the Park will close.

Owners of the popular restaurant, 130 E. Randolph St., completed the deal with Sterling Bay in December. The restaurant is expected to close in March, though partner Peter de Castro said he’s not sure when the last day will be—they have to be off the property by March 29.

“It’s kind of a moving target for the closing date. It depends on how much staff is left,” he said. “As soon as we decide we don’t have the staff to do things to our standards as we’ve always done them, we’ll make that decision and close it from there.”

De Castro said he and the other partners hadn’t planned to sell but Sterling Bay, the group that owns Prudential Plaza, approached the partners and made an offer. De Castro had mixed emotions about closing up shop.

“The decision was tough for staff because we had to give them 60-days notice, and so you want to make sure you take care of them,” he said. But from the financial side, it was an easy choice.

“A 12-year-run is a long run for a restaurant. At that point you have to talk about major remodeling anyway to stay fresh, and that shuts you down,” he said.

The news was especially tough on some longtime customers.

Robert Ogonovich said he’s been visiting the restaurant for years—practically since it opened—when he visits his daughter, who works downtown.

“I always pop in for a drink, when it’s convenient,” he explained.

This month he will have to look elsewhere, and said he is open to exploring the neighborhood.

“I’ll just have to find another place close to here,” Ogonovich said. “I’ll have to survey the neighborhood.”

Looking ahead, de Castro said he doesn’t know what he will do next. He has owned restaurants since 1987, but he said the industry is tough right now. A low unemployment rate is driving up wages for staff, and the city’s minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $13 an hour this July.

“I don’t know what will happen next,” he said. “There aren’t plans to do anything yet, but that could change tomorrow. I think we’re going to take a log off the fire and sit back.”

Kids focus on Ferris wheels at CAC’s Engineering Fest

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

(Published on Feb. 23)

Melissa Degroot had not visited the Chicago Architecture Center before Saturday, Feb. 23.

But she picked a good day to go with her four kids—all weekend long the center is hosting the seventh annual engineering festival.

It’s a festival aimed at teaching kids how and why the manmade world in Chicago works the way it does

“These kids love building things,” Degroot said, as she watched her kids build model Ferris wheels.

The theme of the engineering fest focused on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, so kids could design Ferris wheels, play with staff—the building material used to cover the exposition’s temporary buildings—and learn about trusses and arches, among other things.

Sophia Monroy and Gabriel Monroy work on a Ferris wheel at the Chicago Architecture Center. Photo by Jesse Wright

By noon Saturday, hundreds of parents and kids had visited the festival and hundreds more are expected through the end of the weekend.

Angela Esposita, the senior manager of education for the CAC said the festival started as a way to end national engineering week and as a way to get kids interested in the built world and focusing this year’s festival on the 1893 exposition made sense.

“We’re celebrating the 125th anniversary of the fair,” she said. “Well, actually, that was last year but the exposition opened a year late, too, so we’re right on time.”

Organizers had planned the exposition to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the New World in 1492.

Besides building materials, kids had access to professional critics.

“After they build Ferris wheels, the kids have structural engineers test the strength of their wheels and give feedback,” Esposita said. “Access to experts is what we’re all about.”

Besides hands on crafts, kids also got tours of the CAC and outdoor tours had been planned, though the rain cancelled those plans. Still, Esposita said the event is a great way to get parents in the door to see what the center can offer throughout the year.

“This is a small sample of what we do all year long,” she explained. “This is a good way for parents to get a taste of what the Chicago Architecture Center does.”

The event is free for members and $6 for non-members and kids under 14 get in free.

In May kids will compete in the Newhouse Architecture and Design Competition and the registration deadline is April 18. The CAC also offers family build time Sundays, 10-11:30 a.m.

The center is located at 111 W. Wacker Dr. For more information, visit their website at architecture.org.

Anonymous wedding proposal written into New Eastside Snow

An anonymous person on Feb. 19 shoveled a proposal in Maggie Daley Park's snow. Photo by Jesse Wright

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

(Published Feb. 19, 2019)

Although Valentine’s Day is in the rearview, love is still in the air in the New Eastside.

Shortly around noon Tuesday, Feb. 19, a person began shoveling snow in Maggie Daley Park, eventually spelling out a wedding proposal.

The proposal is visible from the 51st floor of the Aon Center at the New Eastside News’ new Carr Workplaces offices.

It’s not clear who shoveled the message, but by 5 p.m., no one had shoveled a reply.

‘Chicago Fire’ shoot ties up Stetson Avenue

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

(Published on Feb. 15, 2019)

Although passersby might have been shocked to see an SUV rammed into the side of a commercial truck, on Stetson Avenue Friday, it wasn’t a bad accident. In fact, it wasn’t an accident at all. Stetson Avenue was blocked off Friday for shooting Chicago Fire, a popular television drama currently airing its seventh season on NBC.


With temporary fix, north Lake Shore Drive open again

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

(Published Feb. 12, 2019)

According to the City of Chicago, the northbound lanes of traffic are now open on Lake Shore Drive.

The lanes were closed mid-day Monday after Chicago Department of Transportation employees noticed two cracked girders on Lake Shore Drive and another cracked girder on a ramp from Wacker to south Lake Shore Drive. The closure lasted just over a day. Since the problem was discovered, CDOT workers worked nonstop to repair the street.

Susan Hofer, a CDOT spokesperson, said the work went well over the 24-hour period.

“We made good progress through the night,” she said in an email Tuesday. “We re-opened The Wacker to southbound Lake Shore Drive ramp last night.”

At an on-site press conference with CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, she explained the cracked beams were bolstered with four shoring towers.

“This will allow us to make repairs,” she explained. “We expect permanent repairs will be done over the next several weeks.”

The shoring towers can withstand a total of 300,000 pounds of pressure each.

The total cost of the temporary and permanent fix isn’t yet known.

Hofer added that CDOT is still not sure what exactly led to the cracks, though the polar vortex might have been a factor.

“We think the extreme temp variations might be part of the problem,” she said. “We’re still working on determining the causes. 

CDOT engineers are continuing to inspect other girders throughout the road system for cracks.

Ida B. Wells honored with downtown street name

Civil rights activist Ida B. Wells was honored Monday morning when city and state leaders officially unveiled new street signs for Ida B. Wells Drive.

The 1.2-mile downtown street was formerly known as Congress Parkway and aldermen Sophia King (Fourth Ward) and Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) co-sponsored and passed the ordinance to rename the street in July 2018. This is the first downtown street named after an African American woman.

“She was an original boss,” King said. “She spoke truth to power and … changed the landscape of Chicago and the world.”

Wells was born into slavery in 1862 in Mississippi, but it was her pioneering work as a Memphis publisher and journalist where she first gained widespread attention. In 1891 Wells, who was also a public school teacher, began reporting on unequal conditions in black schools. Those articles got her fired from her teaching job.

A year later, in 1892, she began work on a series of articles on lynching that showed the practice, far from being a legitimate form of law enforcement, was a means of terrorizing African Americans to keep them powerless and scared. Her stories used data analysis and extensive investigative techniques that were new in journalism.

The stories so upset white Memphians, a mob burned her offices, destroyed her printing press and forced her to flee the South, though the series got national distribution in black papers. After a speaking tour in Europe, she settled in Chicago where she continued to civil rights work for African Americans and for women’s issues until her death in 1931.

“I believe this honor is long overdue,” said Reilly. “I believe it is wrong that until this day no street in downtown Chicago has ever been named for an African American woman. It’s wrong. But I can’t think of a better or more deserving individual than Ida B. Wells to right that wrong today.”

The mayor and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton also praised Wells’ legacy and Michelle Duster, a great-granddaughter of Wells, said she hopes the street is an inspiration.

“Ida B. Wells Drive will remind everyone, no matter where they start in life, that it is possible to make their voice heard,” Duster said.

Chaz Ebert, the keynote speaker for the event, said public memorials to people of color are important, especially for children of color.

“As a little girl I used to wonder, did we really matter? As a little girl I had never seen a black fireman or a black nun,” she said. “And I would wonder, did we matter?

“Buckminster Fuller, when he used to greet people who said ‘hello’ to him, he would say, ‘I see you is see you.’ Because we all have a universal need to be seen, to be heard, to be loved and to know that we matter and that the footprint we leave on this earth will be observed by someone. And that’s what’s happening this morning.”

Restaurant Week extended for a week

For the News

Choose Chicago and its partner restaurants announced today that Chicago Restaurant Week has been extended through Feb. 12. 

More than 235 restaurants will participate in the extension, which will continue to offer specially designed prix fixe menus, starting at $24 for brunch and lunch, and $36 and/or

$48 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity).

“We are excited to offer locals and visitors an extra five days of dining deals at some of the city’s best restaurants,” said David Whitaker, Choose Chicago President & CEO. “There’s no better time to get out and enjoy some incredible meals at equally incredible prices and catch a show or two during Theatre Week.”

Chicago Restaurant Week’s extension coincides with the 7th Annual Chicago Theatre Week which kicks off on February 7 and runs through February 17, allowing diners to combine an amazing culinary experience with a night out at the theatre.

Presented by the League of Chicago Theatres in partnership with Choose Chicago, the 7th annual Chicago Theatre Week will again provide visitors and residents the opportunity to choose from more than 120 productions and sample the extraordinary range of theatrical offerings in Chicago.

“This year, Chicago Theatre Week kicks off The Year of Chicago Theatre, reminding people of the rich theatre tradition in Chicago. Certainly, in this city of innovators, risk-takers and big hearts, the standard of excellence by both the theatre and restaurant scenes set Chicago apart from other cities,” said Deb Clapp, Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatres. “With the overlap of Theatre Week and Restaurant Week, audiences will once again be able to take advantage of both of these great deals to create a quintessential Chicago experience.”

For a listing of restaurants participating in the extension, visit EatItUpChicago.com. To learn more about Chicago Theatre Week shows, tickets and venues, visit ChicagoTheatreWeek.com

A gem on Jeweler’s Row: Hamilton Jewelry makes it special by hand

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

Along Wabash Avenue, between East Washington and East Monroe, sit 350 jewelers.

This two-block stretch of downtown is Jewelers Row, Chicago’s historic diamond district, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the choices. Still, Kailee Swift’s Hamilton Jewelry stands out, her store a cut above the rest.

With her store nestled in the art deco Mallers Building at 5 S. Wabash St., New Eastside resident Swift has been quietly burninishing her reputation—and wowing clients—for decades by custom designing perfectly personal pieces.

Swift has been creating custom jewelry since she opened Hamilton Jewelry in 1997. Despite the Internet bringing a fundamental change in how people shop, Swift has kept with her handmade, traditional approach. It has served her well.

Swift offers a personalized, full-service experience. Due to her location on Jewelers Row, she can easily connect with goldsmiths who work nearby.

“I have more control and can oversee the projects firsthand,” she said. “Also, there is no need to ship jobs or have a messenger as retail stores do. Everything stays right here, which saves time and money.”

The hunt for the perfect piece of jewelry can seem daunting.

“Everyone’s afraid they’re going to be ripped off,” Swift said, “so I want people to trust Hamilton.”

Kevin and Allison Carnahan are longtime clients of Swift’s.

“I first used Kailee for Allison’s engagement ring,” Kevin said. “When I got there, I knew next to nothing about diamonds or bands or how diamonds were set. Kailee was able to explain the different diamond characteristics to help me design the perfect ring.”

“We love working with Kailee,” Allison added. “She is patient and she produces beautiful customized jewelry that you are excited to show off.”

Besides custom designs, Swift can also help with repairs and appraisals and help customers find a specific vintage piece.

Swift loves educating customers on just about everything jewelry-related.

“People come in so nervous,” she said, “I try to keep them at ease, provide tons of education and help them relax.”

In addition to serving her regulars, Swift is a familiar face at holiday shows, trunk shows and charity events.

“I love to give back, and [fundraising] is something that I hold close to my heart,” she said.

“We pride ourselves on quality, exceptional value and service over a lifetime,” Swift said.

Visit the store online at hamiltonjewelryinc.com

5 S. Wabash, Suite 1310

(312) 704-0404

Owner and designer, Kailee Swift, at her store Hamilton Jewelry on Jewelers Row. Photo by Angela Gagnon

Valentine’s Day gifts for that very special someone

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

If you’re looking to go beyond the cliche of a dozen red roses or chocolate-covered strawberries this Valentine’s Day, consider these offerings.

A Red Wine … bath

Wine is often part of Valentine’s Day, but it usually comes in a glass, not a bathtub. AIRE Ancient Baths in the West Loop offers a romantic Red Wine Experience for two. With the Red Wine Experience, you receive a 30 minute private bath in an antique 17th century Venetian well, converted into a bath—of red wine.

The wine pool is “a unique and unforgettable experience that offers the opportunity to submerge yourself completely in the antioxidant properties of the Spanish Ribera del Duero red grapes,” according to AIRE Chicago’s website. The wine bath experience includes a cranio-facial massage, followed by a full body massage with grapeseed oil. Pricing for 180 minutes is $800 during the week and $900 on weekends.

For more information visit beaire.com or stop by their baths at 800 W. Superior St. They can also be reached by phone at (312) 945-7414.

Everlasting Flowers

Venus et Fleur offers real roses that last up to a year (with proper care). Roses come in a variety of colors, including gold, blue, or classic red. They also come in a variety of designs and boxes, and are meant to stay in the box for both design and longevity purposes. Price options are available from $39-$1,499 and beyond. A single rose starts at $39, a dozen is $299, and their Grandiose de Venus arrangement is $1,499.

Visit venusetfleur.com for more information.

A bespoke song

Always wanted to serenade your love, but don’t have the chops? Let Chicago-born Songfinch do it for you. Songfinch will create a song, either from scratch or from a foundation, about your love and relationship. Your tune is  delivered digitally in a week, and can include a photo slideshow if desired. There are an array of singers and styles to choose from, including rap, folk and pop. Songfinch grants you personal license usage to your song in perpetuity, meaning the song is yours (as long as you don’t make money on it) forever. For more information, visit songfinch.com.

Waiting for a heart in Streeterville

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Jessica Venditto is waiting for a heart.

The 24-year-old woman was born with a heart condition known as pulmonary atresia, meaning her right ventricle didn’t develop properly. As a result, one of the most important organs in her body can’t do its job.

For Venditto, the road to a healthy life has led her to Streeterville, where she has found hope, friendship and one of the best medical teams in the world. Even though the wait for a new heart may take years, she is optimistic.

The heart condition has led to five surgeries and a pacemaker. Each surgery has been met with complications, making each operation more risky than the last. Venditto has the use of one lung after the other collapsed, and she’s developed end-stage liver cirrhosis, an occasional risk for patients who have childhood heart disease.

This isn’t the first time she has beaten the odds.

In 2010, the Long Island-based family got bad news. Debbie, Venditto’s mother, said her daughter needed a Fontan procedure, a tricky type of heart surgery. Without the surgery, her daughter would die, but Debbie said doctors in New York worried performing surgery in a patient so weak might prove fatal anyway.

“They couldn’t do it,” Debbie said.

The Venditto family began looking for a doctor who could work on their daughter. They found Dr. Cal Backer at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“He’s the one who saved her life,” Debbie said.

Dr. Backer said the Fontan procedure is complicated, but at Lurie, the staff is used to complicated.

“We’ve done more than anyone else in the world,” Backer said of the procedure.

The 2010 surgery was a success. Things were looking up.

Until Venditto took a turn.

In 2016, Venditto developed liver cirrhosis and today, at stage four, doctors say she desperately needs a new heart to heal the liver. But again, no one in New York City would work on Venditto.

“We reached out to many hospitals,” Debbie said. “Everyone said it was too risky, she wouldn’t make it. The hospitals in New York wouldn’t do it. But Dr. Backer feels he can put a new heart in there and it will rejuvenate the liver. … We know it’s a risky procedure, but it’s our only option.”

Dr. Backer said this is a common story at Lurie Children’s Hospital, which offers one of the top pediatric heart transplant programs in the country.

“The program has been active for 30 years,” he said. “Last year we were number two in the country for pediatric heart transplants. We get some of these most complex cases that have been turned down elsewhere, and we have patients from the other side of the world in our unit right now waiting for transplants.”

Waiting for a new heart means moving to a new home, because when the heart comes in, the patient must go into surgery immediately. Debbie and her daughter left the family in Long Island and moved to Streeterville in August 2018.

In Long Island, the family had a home. But in Streeterville, the Vendittos didn’t know anyone and they didn’t know how they could afford an apartment that would accommodate mother, daughter and Debbie’s parents in addition to a mortgage back in Long Island.

They found Gail Spreen, a realtor with Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty.

“I knew relocating here would be a financial burden, but on top of it all we had to get an apartment, and that’s why God brought us Gail Spreen,” Debbie said.

Spreen heard the Vendittos’ story and was determined to help them find an apartment that was the right fit.

“When I met the Vendittos, I understood what they were needing and looking for in their housing needs. I knew it would be a unique find,” Spreen said. “They were so incredibly honest, wonderful people and Jessica’s story [was] so heart-warming, that I had to see what I could do to help them.”

Spreen was looking for a condo owner who would appreciate their situation, and she found just the couple, the Standfords.

“They were also from New York,” she said. “After everyone met and worked out the details, we got the Vendittos moved in and now part of the fabric of Streeterville.”

“A win-win for all,” Spreen said. “Besides, how could you say no to smiley Jessica and her caring mother, father and wonderful grandparents?”

With that, the Vendittos moved into the 474 North Lakeshore Building.

“It’s beautiful,” Jessica Venditto said. “I love seeing the Ferris wheel everyday.”

“We love Streeterville,” echoed Debbie. “It’s so amazing. … If my husband’s job could relocate, I would move here. Everyone is so much nicer. I don’t want to slight New York, but come on, everyone is so much nicer. It’s our home away from home all because of Gail Spreen.”

The task now is finding a heart.

Originally, Venditto was categorized as 1A, meaning she was at the top of the list for heart donations. Debbie said they might have waited only six months for a heart. But after a rule change because of her age, she was moved to the fourth category, the category for adults.

“It’s going to take years to get a heart,” Debbie said.

Dr. Backer said he hopes the Vendittos’ situation inspires people to become organ donors.

“I think organ donation is extremely important,” he said. “Organ donation takes place during very sad circumstances, but often there could be something good that comes out of it for the family who donates their loved one’s organs.”

In the meantime, the Vendittos are asking people to contribute to a GoFundMe account. Over the past two years, the family has depended on donations.

“We used all the money for medication that wasn’t covered by insurance,” Debbie said.

To contribute, visit gofundme.com/Jessicavenditto.

Jessica Venditto, bottom right, sits with her family on a beach vacation. Photo courtesy Debbie Venditto.
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