Coverstory

Ni­sei Lounge the last true Wrigleyville bar

Chicago Sun-Times - - WEEKEND - BY DAVE HOEK­STRA dhoek­[email protected]­times.com

Like a faded hero in the on­deck circle, the Ni­sei Lounge is the last real neigh­bor­hood bar in Wrigleyville.

Lo­cated at 3439 N. Sh­effield, it’s also the long­est-run­ning bar in Wrigleyville, dat­ing back to 1951. Kaunch Hirabayashi opened the orig­i­nal Ni­sei Lounge in 1949 at Clark and Division. When the bar moved to its present lo­ca­tion, Chicago was home to more than 150,000 Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans, about 30,000 of whom had been in­terned in camps dur­ing World War II. (The “Ni­sei” are sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion, Amer­i­can-born chil­dren of Ja­panese im­mi­grants.)

The Ni­sei Lounge was sup­posed to close in 2008 as the re­sult of a fall­out be­tween pre­vi­ous part­ners. A farewell party was thrown. But like so many plans in the Cubs or­bit, things changed.

Chicagoans Craig Mor­rall and Brian Pis­to­rius pur­chased the Ni­sei at the be­gin­ning of base­ball sea­son, 2010. They were long­time Cubs fans who loved the neigh­bor­hood and old-school bars. They work in the cor­po­rate world and had never owned a bar or res­tau­rant.

“We wanted to keep it alive,” Mor­rall said. “It is the last neigh­bor­hood bar in Wrigley, and that’s our niche. It’s more laid-back. We are draw­ing a more reg­u­lar base of young peo­ple be­cause they like the at­mos­phere and the neigh­bor­hood style that has left Wrigley.”

Mor­rall 40, and Pis­to­rius, 31, have pre­served the no-frillls char­ac­ter while clean­ing up the bath­rooms and up­dat­ing ameni­ties like ac­cept­ing credit cards. They kept the rock ’n’ roll juke­box and the pool ta­ble, which is an im­por­tant point. Most Wrigleyville neigh­bor­hood bars have elim­i­nated pool tables be­cause space is bet­ter used for cus­tomers. Daily Ni­sei spe­cials in­clude 16-ounce cans of Old Style and Schlitz for $4. That is re­ally old-school.

“The Cubs’ suc­cess or fail­ures def­i­nitely af­fects busi­ness in the en­tire neigh­bor­hood,” Mor­rall said. “We are a vic­tim of the Cubs. This year has hurt us as a small busi­ness op­er­a­tor. We’re not a cor­po­ra­tion that owns six es­tab­lish­ments be­yond the Ni­sei Lounge. But we don’t rely com­pletely on the Cubs. We try to pro­mote it in other ways.”

Bruce Spring­steen sets up camp at Wrigley this week­end. He will be sure to sing about “Glory Days” that are for­eign to Cubs na­tion.

“Concert busi­ness has been spo­radic,” Mor­rall said. “Paul McCart­ney drew an older crowd which didn’t go to bars as much, ver­sus Dave Matthews who draws a much younger crowd. Con­certs have not been as lu­cra­tive in the neigh­bor­hood as all of us had hoped.”

SUN-TIMES | SCOTT STE­WART~

Craig Mor­rall, owner of Ni­sei Lounge, in Wrigleyville has em­braced the Ni­sei’s sta­tus as a neigh­bor­hood bar.

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