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David Lissner
for restaurants

Remembering happier days at the now-closed Red Light

The times, they are a’ changing. In this 1996 Dining Chicago video, Chef Michael Kornick (since gone on to his namesake mk and DMK Burger Bar) tells David Lissner about what was then the hottest new restaurant in the trendy Market District. Red Light closed in late March, reportedly due to liquor-license issues, and co-owner Jerry Kleiner has announced that it will not reopen.

“Red Light made the West Loop hot,” Kleiner said. “It was a great pan-Asian concept for many years but has run its course and will remain closed.” The property is for sale.

Since 1991, when the restaurateur and then-partners Howard Davis and Dan Krasny launched Vivo on Randolph Street, the neighborhood originally known as West Loop Gate has been Kleiner country. Soon afterward, the partners opened Marche (which closed last year) and then Red Light, and what had been a slightly scary warehouse district turned into the city’s hottest restaurant row, handy to United Center, opened in 1994.

Under Kornick and later chefs Paul Wildermuth and Jackie Shen (now at Chicago Cut Steakhouse), Red Light, with its striking red beacon, hip and eclectic decor and even more hip and eclectic pan-Asian menu — featuring such dishes as Asian takes on paella and bolognese — made the corner of Randolph and Halsted a vibrant dining destination.

While Vivo, solely owned by Krasny since a partnership split some years back, continues in business, and many other restaurants (including The Girl & the Goat, Nia and Blackbird) still make Randolph Street a popular food neighborhood, particularly with tourists and conventioneers, the area will go on without Kleiner. He remains involved with restaurants elsewhere, including Carnivale in River West and Il Poggiolo in Hinsdale, and isn’t looking back.

Kleiner and Davis also pioneered in the South Loop, with Gioco in 1999, and Opera a few years later. Opera closed last year and Gioco is also dark at present, shut down by the state over taxes, although Kleiner says that’s a temporary setback and owners are working on reopening.

Still, it feels like an era has ended.