The whine of a saw and the buzz and clank of power tools filled the former Carmen’s Pizza site at 1012-14 Church Street in Evanston this Monday.
In just a few months, however, the sounds of live rock n’ roll, blues and punk music will resonate throughout the space, when a new restaurant and concert hall called 27 Live opens for business.
Owner John Tasiopoulos, who also owns Old Neighborhood Grill in Evanston, is a relative newcomer to the restaurant and entertainment business. He opened Old Neighborhood Grill at 2902 Central St. four years ago, after quitting his job as director of international services for a major Chicago-area software corporation.
“It wasn’t for me. I hated it,” says the Chicago native and Glenview resident. “I’ve been talking for the last ten years about opening a restaurant.”
Tasiopoulos briefly owned a restaurant in Chicago before he started college, and always regretted selling it. So when his wife suggested that he finally make good on his dream, he disregarded conventional wisdom not to open a restaurant during a recession, and put hamburgers, hot dogs and his family’s traditional Greek recipes on the menu at the casual eatery.
“This is more hands on, immediate feedback,” says Tasiopoulos of the restaurant business. “I love the service aspect.”
His loyal customers at Old Neighborhood Grill are all excited about the new restaurant, he adds—but 27 Live will “be a completely different kind of thing.”
Chef Scott Donaldson, who studied in Italy and has previously worked in several Chicago restaurants, has created an eclectic American menu including artisan pizzas, wild-caught fish and burgers made with grass-fed beef.
Meanwhile, Tasiopoulos has already talked to several bands that are interested in playing the space, and says groups from as far as San Francisco and Los Angeles have contacted him about booking. While he can’t reveal names yet, he says the acts will include national, well-known groups as well as local talent.
Tasiopoulos admits he’s a fan of classic rock himself, having grown up in the 1970s listening to the Rolling Stones and Jethro Tull. The restaurant and concert hall’s name—27 Live—is a tribute to several rock icons from that era, as well as more recent musicians, all of whom died at age 27. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Robert Johnson, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse will all be memorialized in photos at the restaurant’s entryway.
Beyond the entryway, many more unique touches are in the works for the two-story space that once housed Carmen’s Pizza along with Asado Grill. Crews scraped the red paint off the twisting staircase that dominates the main room to reveal a gleaming silver railing. A curving bar was built beneath it, following the slope of the staircase, and workers will carve a Flying V, Stratocaster and Gibson guitar into its wood surface.
“I’ve always wanted to play guitar, but I don’t have the fingers for it,” Tasiopoulos says.
Gleaming wood surfaces are the signature element throughout the space. Workers scraped white paint off to reveal the rich reddish-brown color of the wooden trusses hanging over the main room, with its two-story high ceiling and skylights. The wall across from the stage, where Tasiopoulos will set up benches and chairs, is decorated with blocks of different colored reclaimed wood—his oldest daughter’s idea.
“I love wood and I like this design,” says Tasiopoulos, whose father once worked as a contractor. As an added bonus, the wood serves as natural soundproofing—“I’ve had the sound guys come in here, and they love it,” he says.
The main room, with a bar, dance floor and raised seating area, fits 280 to 300 people standing or 160 seated at tables and on risers. Upstairs, a second, smaller concert space will showcase two-to-three person acoustic sets in front of a carved wooden Brunswick bar that Tasiopoulos bought at an auction.
Three private, VIP rooms upstairs will also be available for patrons to rent out, with a separate menu and view of the stage from a balcony above.
Although the space is still filled with sawdust, piles of wood planks and bags of construction debris, Tasiopoulos plans to finish the main room by late October, when he will host a Northwestern University party. His wife and three daughters, all of whom work at Old Neighborhood Grill, are also hard at work on the new space. On Tuesday, Tasiopoulos’ wife, Theresa, was running out to get supplies, while his 17-year-old daughter, Tatiana, and 20-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, were painting the VIP rooms.
“We’re scrambling, as you can tell,” laughs Tasiopoulos, whose youngest daughter is still in elementary school.
Asked how his restaurant and concert hall will compare to Evanston’s other major music venue, SPACE, Tasiopoulos says the acts and the atmosphere will make the difference.
“We’re going to do a lot more hell-raising, people just getting up on the tables to dance,” he says. “We’re trying to build a really fun place for people to hang out in Evanston.”