I can’t recall whether I ever ate the famous chili at the Ramova Grill. The diner on Halsted has been shuttered for years. The movie palace of the same name next door has been closed many more. Both are known to most of us in Bridgeport as façades and nothing more.
When beloved neighborhood hubs close they become ghosts. There’s the occasional human-interest piece in the paper about what the place used to be. An obituary about the old owner maybe. Then the wreckers come and the carcass of the old structure is disappeared in favor of something new. But some ghosts refuse fade away.
When it was announced a few years back that a developer had purchased the husk of the Ramova with the intention of reopening it as a theater/brewery/restaurant/entertainment complex, many in the neighborhood cheered. A project like this takes full advantage of old-timers’ nostalgia and newcomers’ hope for economic renewal. The organizers present those lifeless architectural renderings of what the shiny future block will look like when the builders are done. But the gap between hopes, dreams, and reality is often a gaping one.
Years pass. There are construction delays, budgets are revised upwards, a plague descends on the land. None of it is ever foreseen though much of it should be expected.
I’m on the outside looking in like the rest until the chef/owner of the place I go for brunch every Sunday sits down next to me at the bar while I’m eating and tells me his idea. He wants a mural of what the diner used to be on the wall of the new diner that will stand in its place.
In his telling this painting will be visible from the street and a counter will run along its bottom where diners will eat their omelettes, burgers, and, of course, chili. I haven’t done a wall since a kindergarten in Boston thirty years ago but the idea appeals to me. I like having my work in public spaces where people do other things than just having to appreciate art. It’s a callback to times when painting was a part of everyday life rather than a means for rich people to hide from the tax man.
I tell the chef I’ll see what I can do.
I work up three sketches and present them after the new year. The chef seems happy and his partners do too. That said, I have no inkling whether the thing will come together. I know better than to count these particular eggs.
I’ve had enough end up all over my face not to get my hopes up. Still, a guy can dream.
Listen to a long talk with my old Art Institute professor Don Southard. Then Mallory and I talk Near Dark. I had a few more thoughts about that African art show and also wrote about the new play at Trap Door.