Addison: The Wild Hare Closes Amid Tough Economy in Wrigleyville

Addison Stop IconBy Breann Tuch, AnnCatherine Brady and Nicole Rovner
The Red Line Project

Posted: Friday, June 3, 2011

The streets of Wrigleyville are lined with sports bars competing for customers. However, on May 15, one of Chicago’s only full-time reggae clubs, and a mainstay in Wrigleyville, closed.

The Wild Hare boarded up its doors after 25 years of business on 3530 N. Clark St. Even the landmark bar, known as ‘America’s reggae capitol’ was no match for the unpredictable economy.

“It’s been tough here,” said owner Zekele Gessesse. “Out of the 27 years I’ve been operating, the last three was the worst. It was so rough. I was losing about $80,000 to $90,000 a year. If I keep on losing, I lose the building.”

Other Wrigleyville bars are having similar issues as Gessesse, according to interviews with several bar employees. The days where Cubs fans filled the bars before games or paid top dollar for tickets are becoming distant traditions.

Interactive map: Bars and restaurants in Wrigleyville.

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“Wrigleyville is a whole different place now,” said Martel Bowen, a student at Columbia College Chicago. “You can get tickets at the box office on prime games and when bars used to be shoulder to shoulder, they’re now empty. Price wise, a lot more bars try to offer day to day specials on drinks to entice more people to come out.”

The lagging economy and slow business have forced many Wrigleyville bars like Bar Louie, My Bar, Bottle Bar and a few others to close down.

“Over the past few years, business has totally changed … we’ve seen a decrease in customers,” said Rochelle Gold, a bartender at The Dark Horse Tap and Grille. “There are bars around here that we’re friends with that aren’t doing so well. They’ve mentioned that things weren’t so good for the past two or three years.”

So, instead of letting the bank win this battle, Gessesse will bring back his newly found culture of Wrigleyville back to Ethiopia.

“I want to create a link between Chicago and Ethiopia," Gessesse said. "The USA today needs this kind of connection with Africa.” 

Gus Isacson, the executive director for Central Lakeview Merchants Association, said that other local bars around Wrigleyville shouldn’t be worried about a ripple effect.

“[The Wild Hare] was sold to another bar instantly” Isacson said. “When it was in the paper that it was going out of business, people wanted that bar. People know this is a viable area.”

Isacson is keeping an optimistic attitude of the current state of the Lakeview area.

“The Wild Hare was an incident, not a trend,” Isacson said. “I think they had an independent situation happen. Unless you’re top notch in product, a clean menu and good prices you’re not going to survive …You have to keep up with the trend of a neighborhood. This area here has been solid and it continues to be.”

Gessesse is no stranger to unique circumstances. He, along with his brother and bandmate, came over from Ethipoia as political refuges during a civil war in 1978. Gessesse took to reggae music early, forming the band called Dallol with his brother and a few of their friends.

In the early 1980s, Dallol was signed by Bob Marley’s record label, Tuff Going. They toured with Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers through the remainder of the decade.

Once the space for the Wild Hare was up for auction in 1986, Gessesse and his partners scraped together enough cash to buy the building and brought the tradition of reggae music to North Clark.

“I’ve only been here a handful of times, but it’s really upsetting to know I won’t have this bar to come to anymore in a neighborhood of homogenous sports bars,” said Pete Meersman, a Wrigleyville resident. “Wrigleyville is losing its most unique, go-to places.”

However, patrons are not the only people losing out on the Wild Hare’s closing.

“It’s so unfortunate that such a unique bar is closing,” said Rachel Shanklin, a Wild Hare bartender. “If this turns into a sports bar it will be even more sad because then it will be just like everything else around here. Now I’m off to try and find another job in this awful economy.”

For Gessesse, the bars’ closing marks the end of an era as he returns home.

“Somewhere in Ethiopia there will be a sign that said, ‘The New Wild Hare, formally from Chicago/Wrigleyville,' ” Gessesse said.

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