If you had plans to make Castaways Bar & Grill on North Avenue Beach a regular summer hangout, you’ll have to wait until next year.
The popular boat-shaped venue has been closed this summer, while awaiting approval for renovation and expansion work. Now, it’s not set to “fully” reopen until summer 2024, said Gina Stefani, managing partner of Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants, which includes Castaways.
Even so, Castaways has been selling tickets — starting at $130 — to a rooftop viewing event for next month’s Chicago Air and Water Show.
“We plan to have the same setup for the Air and Water Show that we’ve had in previous years. So we’re pre-selling tickets for an all-inclusive package on the rooftop and we’ll have some concessions available downstairs as well,” Stefani said in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.
Signs outside the shuttered venue read: “Temporarily closed this summer for renovations. We’re excited to welcome everyone back aboard soon!”
But neither the city nor the alderman in whose ward the venue sits has given the green light for those renovations. The Chicago Park District owns the building and surrounding land; Castaways is a tenant in the building.
“Alderman [Timmy] Knudsen has been in contact with Castaways, including meeting with them multiple times, and has made it clear that any project that requires expansion onto the beach or other similar changes would require a community meeting. Ald. Knudsen is committed to working with Castaways and [the] Park District to get them back open and operating,” Knudsen’s office said in a statement to the Sun-Times.
Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants has applied to the Chicago Department of Buildings for a permit to do about $150,000 worth of renovations. But according to documents the Sun-Times obtained from the park district, there are also plans for a 19,500-square-foot concession expansion onto the beach.
Stefani applied for the permits in February. The permits had yet to be issued as of July 17.
“The building permit application was returned to the applicant, Phil Stefani Signature Events, LLC, doing business as Castaways, with comments from both buildings and zoning on March 3, 2023. As of July 17, 2023, the application has not been resubmitted,” according to a statement this week from the buildings department.
In June, Phil Stefani said that after 20 years, the bar was due for some “updating.”
Stefani said at the time that he was waiting for permits to be approved, but that he was unaware that the application for work had been sent back to his offices.
Gina Stefani said Wednesday that the restaurant group has had a “great working relationship” with the city and that Knudsen “has gone above and beyond in keeping the communication lines open with us.”
“We are focused on getting the boathouse complete, but when it comes time for expansion on the beach, we will absolutely have a community meeting and do whatever is necessary,” she said.
Asked how much money Castaways has lost because it has been closed this season, Gina Stefani said: “At the end of the day, no one wants to get the place renovated and re-opened with a fresh new look more than us. We feel the renovations will be great for our customers and the city.”