Chicago history aficionados and lovers of the now-closed Chicago Joe’s still have the opportunity to bring home a piece of the beloved restaurant.
Almost every item that adorned the interior – or exterior – will be auctioned off at the end of the month. The building at 2256 W. Irving Park Road is being demolished to make way for new development.
Owner Brad Rompza said the restaurant has remained in his family since his grandfather, Joe, opened the doors in 1988. He said it was “bittersweet” to say goodbye and sell out all the ephemera accumulated by her family over the years.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes and what people want and everything. We’re getting calls from people in California about the sign outside,” Rompza said, referring to the 15-foot neon marquee that bears her grandfather’s name and adorns the exterior of the building.
Randy Donley, owner of Donley Auctions, worked with Rompza’s family ahead of the sale, which is open to the public and is expected to start at 10 a.m. on April 30.
“The family loves Chicago so much and wanted to hold the auction in the restaurant…so longtime customers, friends and family could take home a piece of the restaurant with them,” Donley said.
“Over the years so many people have shared birthday parties here and have so many memories embedded in this restaurant and they really felt it was important that the people of Chicago had the opportunity to own these items instead to send them across the country to be auctioned off, and I love that,” Donley added. “Everything is sold — I mean, the family only took five items with them.”
While Donley noted that Rompza and her family have not yet compiled a full inventory of what will be auctioned off, he promised hundreds of items that would need a new home.
In the coming weeks, items for auction will be listed on the Donley Auctions website. Expect to see photos, signs and other antiques, Donley said.
There are over 40 bungalow-style light fixtures and an original event poster featuring Billie Holiday from Colosimo’s Café – a restaurant and nightclub owned by mobster James “Big Jim” Colosimo. This all dates back to the 1920s.
“One thing that surprised me is that most of these memorabilia are old and original, because when they opened there was really an industry of mass-reproduced items,” Donley said. “They bought these items when they were already considered antiques and took great care of them.”
The oldest item up for auction, Donley said, is a large terracotta lion’s head mounted on the wall. He believes it dates to the late 1800s.
None of the displayed items will drop before the auction begins, Donley said. Auctioneers usually stand on a stage, where each item is displayed. But since each item has a special meaning, participants will move through the restaurant, from item to item as they are auctioned.
“I don’t remove anything from the walls ‘before the sale,'” Donley said, “so I’ll literally walk up to each item and auction things off on the spot. “
Rompza said the treasure also includes Chicago sports memorabilia, such as an autograph from White Sox Hall of Famer Minnie Minoso and a photo of Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. But Rompza imagines some past customers probably just want a piece of the old oak bar where drinks have been served for decades.
When asked how much money he expected to bring in, Rompza said he had no expectations.
“We really don’t know what it might look like,” he said. “But when the auctioneer came here, he just said, ‘You’ve got some amazing stuff’ – stuff my grandfather had been collecting for 50 years.”
Chicago Joe’s closed permanently last year after 33 years at North Center, a decision Rompza blamed on the pandemic closures.
“The biggest problem was just loading the kitchen with food and then having to close it again,” he said. “And then find new employees and cooks, then reopen, then close again. … It was just a complete nightmare.
Rompza said her family sold the property to Landrosh Development. The company did not respond to a request for comment, but Rompza said there are plans to build 42 apartments as well as space for a new restaurant on the land.
The family plans to open a new restaurant elsewhere, while continuing to run the Burrwood Tap in Lincoln Park, he said.