Review: Visual and Visceral Nourishment at Bright and Airy Pilsen Yards
Light, airy, woody Pilsen Yards opened at 1163 W. 18th St. in January, an inviting rehab of the former Mediterranean-style Monnie Burke’s into a modern speakeasy. The façade is clean and colorful, and the red revolving door welcomes visitors to the 30-seat square wooden bar called The Alderman, surrounded by cozy booths. Out back is a charming 198-seat patio sheltered by high, clear panels to let in the light but not the elements.
The patio floor is heated concrete, with heaters overhead plus a fire pit to make the space welcoming throughout the winter. The restaurant has repurposed wood salvaged from the original Pilsen Yards lumber distribution center at 18th and Blue Island.
Owners Anan Abu-Taleb (who was Oak Park village president for eight years and runs several other area restaurants) and son Paul Abu-Taleb retained beverage director Lance Bowman to curate a tight list of draft cocktails, local brews, many mezcal and tequila choices, and delicious margaritas, like the Mezcal Marg, which combines orange liqueur, blackberry, sage, angostura, and citrus with zippy chile salt on half the glass rim.
Chef Armando Gonzalez’s menu is casual Mexican street food that includes hot and cold tastings ($8-$18), like pina colada ceviche, plus tacos, bigger plates of asada, bass, chicken and a burger ($13-$26). Featured sweets are soft serve ice cream and a drunken tres leches. The homemade guacamole is fresh and chunky, and the salsa is smoky and tangy.
Neighborhood Night is the first Wednesday of each month, where those showing an ID from home or work with zip codes of 60608, 60609, 60616 or 60623 can received 25% off their check. Happy Hour runs Wednesdays through Fridays 3-5:30pm and Saturdays and Sundays 3-4:30pm.
Pilsen Yards is also available for private events, and offers vinyl DJ and live music events on weekends. The space also hosts art exhibitions, and “Awaken” is the current mixed media offering by Chicago artist Jenny Vyas, featuring QR codes to scan for more information. Her large canvases feature images of women in dark, moody tones, accompanied by inspiration quotes, and hang over the DJ booth’s twin turntables and near the front window.
Playing card symbols are sprinkled on the 30”x30” “Spade,” which quotes singer Amy Winehouse, saying “My odds are stacked / I’ll go back to black.” Shiny, black and gold, 24”x48” face “Lethe” references Fiona Apple’s “It’s calm under the waves in the blue of my oblivion.” Shakespeare’s Scottish play is quoted for another dark female figure, the 45”x40” diptych “Yen,” saying “Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires.” (Shakespeare reportedly wrote sonnets 127-154 to a mysterious “Dark Lady.”)
A woman’s gray, coquettish back is depicted in “Façade,” with the 30”x40” piece mentioning Kamand Kajouri: “I am looking for the one I can’t fool.” Another dark female figure seemingly throws copper, blue and green across the 30”x40” “Emancipate” painting, which quotes Matshona Dhliwayo: “Major breakthroughs often come after major breakdowns.” The large, fractured gray and cream lady in “Sunder” (48”x60”) quotes the artist herself, “sometimes, you have to let your heart get completely shattered in order to allow love to seep in through the cracks.”
A downturned, aqua face is “Arcane,” which references Khaled Hosseini’s coming-of-age-in-Afghanistan book The Kite Runner: “It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.” The brown-toned female in an aqua atmosphere from “Idyll” also quotes the book, saying, “and that’s the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too.”
Glossy, burgundy and black “Acquit” (36”x48”) quotes Louise Gluck’s poem “Crossroads,” excerpting “my soul has been so fearful, so violent; forgive its brutality. As though it were that soul, my hand moves over you cautiously…” The collection is cohesive if a bit repetitive, and can be viewed while waiting for your craft cocktail to be concocted.
Roger J. Carter also has a unique wall installation on the way to the bathrooms: “God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign. No More Water, The Fire Next Time.” From a distance, it’s an image of renowned writer James Baldwin. Moving closer, viewers can discern that the face is constructed from many toy soldiers, as well as plastic figures of Luke Skywalker in his orange X-wing flight suit, his (spoiler?) father Darth Vader brandishing a red lightsaber, and Chewbacca with the disassembled C-3PO on his back.
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