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David Lissner
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Go behind-the-scenes at Chicago restaurants

Get a look behind the scenes at some of Chicago’s most distinctive restaurants Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13 and 14, during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s second-annual Open House Chicago, when over 150 city buildings will open some not-regularly-seen spaces to the public.

Among the buildings open:

  1. Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse in River North. The landmark 1895 building designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb is the only example of 19th-century Dutch Renaissance architecture left in Chicago.From 1939 to 1943, Frank Nitti — enforcer of the Al Capone gang — lived in an apartment on the fourth floor. Open for the weekend will be Nitti’s Vault in the basement, containing artifacts uncovered in the building, including a three-door safe, a phonebook of reputed gangsters, original Capone-era newspapers and photographs, secret rooms and Nitti’s rumored escape tunnel.
  2. House of Blues Foundation Room in River North. Part of the Marina City complex, the House of Blues building was originally a theater designed by Bertrand Goldberg, and built between 1959 and 1967 and modeled after the Estavovski Opera House in Prague. The exotic fourth-floor Foundation Room, a luxurious private club elaborately decorated as three prayer rooms — Divinity, Buddha and Ganesh, each represented by a focal statue — will be open to the public for the weekend.
  3. Rock Bottom Brewery in River North. The two-story 1920s building, ornamented and clad in terra cotta, features a rounded corner entrance, spacious interiors and a rooftop deck. Visitors will get a behind-the-scenes brewery tour, and samples of handcrafted beers.
  4. Berghoff Restaurant in the Loop. Opened by German immigrant Herman Joseph Berghoff opened the original Berghoff Cafe in 1898. Storefronts adjoining its 1872 structure were among the first rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871, in styles like those from before the fire, such as the cast-iron facade of 27 W. Adams, one of only two such structures remaining in the city. The restaurant’s building includes a public hall on the top floor from whence the Haymarket protesters reportedly departed. The original restaurant closed in 2006. After trying a couple of other concepts in the space, Carlyn Berghoff, who bought the assets from her parents, has restored the old name and German fare. Weekend visitors will see the in-house bakery and other behind-the-scenes areas.
  5. Home Run Inn in Little Village. A small tavern opened in 1923, Home Run Inn introduced pizza to its menu in 1947. Now the family-owned company has eight restaurants and a 70,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that distributes frozen pizzas to 20 states. Visitors will view the custom pizza production line.
  6. Ristorante al Teatro / Thalia Hall in Pilsen. A mixed-use structure built to be a community center for Chicago’s Bohemians, the 1893 Thalia Hall was modeled after the Opera House in Prague, a Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style with rustic stonework and rounded arches. Political groups working to create Czechoslovakia after World War I met there. Dominick Geraci, the present owner, has renovated much of the structure and opened Ristorante Al Teatro on the main floor. The building will be open and Geraci will lead tours of the as-yet-unrenovated theater space.
  7. Mayne Stage / Act One Pub in Rogers Park. A one-time vaudeville and movie house, opened as Morse Theater in 1912. It was remodeled in the 1930s with an Art Deco theme. It recently underwent a multi-million dollar restoration and renovation as an entertainment and dining venue. Weekend visitors will have access to the backstage and state-of-the-art recording control room.
  8. Uncommon Ground in Edgewater. The first rooftop organic farm in the U.S. crowns this restaurant, opened in 2008. Last year, The Green Restaurant Association named it “Greenest Restaurant” in the country. Visitors will tour the farm, with its garden beds reclaimed wood, large solar panels and apiary.
  9. Green Mill in Uptown. The building, which dates from 1914, is a remnant of a U-shaped structure that once surrounded a 2,500-seat sunken beer garden. In the mid-1920s, the bar became a high-end speakeasy, where singers such as Al Jolson, Billie Holiday, Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra performed. Al Capone and his henchmen hung out there, and visitors will have a chance to sit in his favorite booth. Reopened in 1986, the Green Mill offers live jazz nightly and is the birthplace of the poetry slam, still held every Sunday.