For decades, Hamilton’s Bar and Grill has been the watering hole for Loyola University students — a favorite spot for many to indulge, or overindulge, on cheap beer, greasy eats and good times.
Located just south of the Lake Shore Campus in Edgewater, at 6341 N. Broadway, Hamilton’s officially opened the year prohibition ended – 1933 – and survived through numerous changes to the neighborhood and the country.
One of the four current owners, Frank Sassolino, described how Hamilton’s is a historical landmark to the community.
“There’s been so much that has happened since then – the ‘50s and ‘60s, segregation, the Vietnam War, Sept. 11 in 2001 – and this place has survived.”
However, it couldn’t survive the current economic recession.
The establishment’s last day of business will be on Saturday, Oct. 27, after its owners decided they couldn’t keep going with their low revenues.
“In the economic times that we’re facing…It’s a struggle to make a profit and the future doesn’t look any more promising,” Sassolino said.
Hamilton’s was also known around Loyola as an allegedly easy place to obtain alcohol for those below the legal drinking age. In recognition of this, Loyola and Secretary of State Police had cracked down on underage drinkers there, staging several stings aimed at turning away those under 21 from Hamilton’s and confiscating fake IDs, most recently over the weekend of Sept. 22.
However, Hamilton’s owners insist that these stings were not a factor in the decision to ultimately close down.
Although rumors around campus persist that Hamilton’s was forced out of their location because Loyola bought the property, school officials and Sassolino said that wasn’t the case. They explained that Loyola is planning to buy the building, but only because the tavern’s owners were already planning on shutting down.
Sassolino explained that after learning of the closure, Loyola saw value in the proximity of the location to campus and became interested in purchasing it.
According to Sassolino, Loyola bought a building about eight months ago just south of Hamilton’s and there have been ongoing rumors about the university’s hope to develop the whole block of Broadway from Devon to Rosemont Avenues.
“The property is very valuable to Loyola’s future development … It is in their best interest to purchase the property now, while it’s for sale, before anyone else buys it,” he said.
In an emailed statement to the Phoenix on Friday, Oct. 12, Loyola confirmed that a transaction with Hamilton’s is underway.
“…Currently, the university has a sales contract to purchase the property that houses Hamilton’s,” said April Whitworth, administrative assistant in the Department of Campus and Community Planning/Community Relations. “We plan to close on the transaction within 30 days.”
Sassolino explained that it is unclear what Loyola has in mind for the land.
“There’s been talk of a field house going in there, there’s talk of all different kinds of facilities. I’ve heard rumors of potentially putting in more housing … What ever their intentions are I honestly don’t know, but I do know that they are very interested in controlling the future destiny of the property.”
Many have also wondered about Loyola’s plan to also purchase the bar’s liquor license, as there is expected to be a bar in the new student union. However, Sassolino did confirm that the liquor license was not purchased along with the land.
Businesses are required to obtain a liquor license in order to legally sell alcohol. In the city of Chicago, there are a limited number available.
Loyola is making the property transaction through Broadway Avenue Real Estate Group, the current owners of the building. Hamilton’s, a tenant for this company, will have to vacate the property once the transaction is complete. Various equipment and decorations from inside Hamilton’s will be sold in an auction.
Regardless of the future, many students have fond memories of Hamilton’s — often called “Ham’s” or “Hammie’s” — and will miss the friendly environment, cheap booze and, although Hamilton’s staff may not admit this, students referred to the ease of entering the bar for those under 21.
Grace Hamilton, 19-year-old studio art and visual communication double major, expressed her sorrow about the closing.
“I’m sad because Hamilton’s has existed for such a long time and I feel like it’s such a part of the local atmosphere here. Rogers Park won’t be as fun with it gone,” said the sophomore.
Dozens of different traditions have stemmed from late nights at Hamilton’s, such as Monday Karaoke nights, Jammies at Hammy’s, Wacky Wednesdays featuring 30 cent wings, or Saturdays devoted to ‘80s music and dancing.
Garrison Carr, class of 2012, shared his tradition from his time at Loyola.
“Karaoke nights really stand out because that was something that my friends and I frequently did and it was always a fun time where you could make an idiot of yourself and it wouldn’t really matter, which happened frequently at Hamilton’s,” he said.
Carlos Robles, 23-year-old secondary education and Spanish double major added, “I’m going to miss being able to sing my lungs out on a Monday night.”
The emotional attachment and history behind this local favorite has led to an outpouring of phone calls and comments on social media sites.
Customers have also called Hamilton’s expressing gratitude to the owners and staff for many memories.
“I get calls saying ‘My grandfather, uncles, parents, etc. went here.’ A gentleman who called met his wife 30 years ago at Hamilton’s and they have been married [since],” Sassolino said.
As students reflect on the closing of the bar, events have been planned to commemorate the space. A “Candlelight Vigil for Hamz” has been organized by Dominique Janice, a senior sociology major, on Oct. 19 as an opportunity for the current Loyola generation to express their feelings about the closing.
The event page states, “Come join in the mourning of the closing … It is crucial that we show how much we loved Hamilton’s.”
“As a senior, the closing of Hamilton’s is symbolic, more than just the closing of a bar … I planned this vigil because I wanted to do something of meaning with my senior year … Ham’s is and always will be a part of the Loyola experience,” she wrote on the page.
Hamilton’s is also an important memory for Loyola alumni.
“We have the huge unanimous support from alumni of Loyola, anywhere from 30 to 60 years old. These people are successful graduate students of Loyola and they support us so far,” Sassolino said.
Christopher Balmaceda, class of 2012, echoed the statements on the closing.
“It is always sad when a small business closes. Hamilton’s has been a long-standing tradition among much of the Loyola, Rogers Park and Edgewater communities. My thoughts are with the Hamilton’s employees during this time of change,” he said.
A group of alumni that comes to Midnight Madness every year as a tradition decided to skip the basketball event this year and instead went to Hamilton’s to celebrate one last time of being together at the bar. The group of around 180 alumni had a private room at Hamilton’s and one other request: ‘80s music.
In addition to this party, six other alumni groups have booked private parties, including previous generations of Loyola volleyball, basketball and softball players, all of whom will travel from across the United States to say their farewell to the bar. Hamilton’s has received multiple requests to book other private parties for the weekend of the 27th, but since this is the last weekend of business, they cannot guarantee space.
Sassolino, who has been a co-owner of the bar for just over 10 years, said that important memories have been made at Hamilton’s.
“While I’ve owned it, I’ve met a lot of great people and a lot of great students — I’ve gone to two weddings of people from Loyola that met at Hamilton’s while they were going to school.”
In the future, he plans to seek out another business venture.
“I’ve been doing the restaurant business for 39 years and I may find another location in the Rogers Park area and open up another restaurant and bar, and if I did, I would possibly keep the format as Hamilton’s. It’s a new adventure but it’s too soon to tell but it’s a strong possibility,” he said.
If the transaction goes according to plan, the building title will officially transfer to Loyola on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.
by Susie Moskop