Wicker Park’s Rite Liquors, a decades-old packaged goods bar that recalls a different era of Division Street, is going up for sale and asking $3.5 million, according to A.J. Manaseer, an agent from Pearson Realty Group.
Located at 1649 West Division, near Ashland, the bar is a fixture with its yellow-green awning, back room pool table, and “slashie” status. It’s one of a dwindling number of taverns with packaged goods license, meaning it can also sell alcohol to go, a rare place to get lottery tickets, a shot, and a case of beer for home in the same stop.
Coming on the heels of the abrupt closure of Stanley’s, the North Branch grocer that suddenly shut its doors last week, it’s another example of a near northwest side fixture changing with the neighborhood.
For 72-year-old owner Mike Liacopoulos, an immigrant from Greece who bought the property in 1983, it was time to step out from behind the bar. One of his two sons just had a hip replacement, and he told Curbed he feels like it’s time for him to move on and hand over the reins. He had been diehard about not selling as recently as last year, despite the potential profit potential in such a key piece of Division Street real estate.
“I’ve been there for 36 years, but there is so much more I want to do,” he says.
Liacopoulos bought the bar, which had been around in some form since the ’20s, in 1983 for either $475,000 or $525,000, he couldn’t recall the exact amount. At the time, the neighborhood was much rougher. He recalls having a baseball bat under the bar, and says he carried three guns with him. In 1997, two men got into a heated argument at Cut-Rate Liquors, a now-closed slashie across the street, with one telling the other he’d kill him if he saw him again. Later that night, one killed the other with a machete down the block.
Rite became part of a string of bars on or near Division, including Gold Star Bar, Zakopane, and Rainbo Club, which are still operating, that became associated with the city’s ’90s indie rock renaissance. Over the past decade, as property values have spiked and condos and high-end coffee shops have moved in, such as Centrum Wicker Park Apartments and the 1819 Luxury Lofts, Rite has remained a popular neighborhood spot, Liacopoulos says: he adds that he’s served the same family, grandfather, father, and son.
“I’m not disappointed in the way the neighborhood has changed,” he says. “Those other bars, you pay double, so we’re always a popular place.”
While not unique to the city, the Chicago packaged goods bar has become something of a local institution. Spaces such as Crown Liquors in Logan Square serve as primarily shot-and-a-beer bars—Liacopoulos says that Old Style tallboys and a shot are his bar’s most popular order. He wouldn’t say how much he makes in a year, but his business is split pretty much evenly between profits from the bar and liquor store.
Chicago doesn’t grant these types of licenses anymore—they’re a relic of the post-Prohibition era when the local tavern was a much more instrumental neighborhood institution in Chicago—so the numbers have been dwindling. According to writer Jay Gentile, who wrote about Rite last year, approximately 20 or so remain in Chicago. Whomever buys Rite would inherit the license.
For Liacopoulos, Rite represents part of his story, an exemplar of the U.S. immigrant narrative. He came to this country in 1972 with $100 in his pocket and couldn’t speak English, he says, and quickly got involved in the real estate industry, where he earned the capital to buy the bar. Now, he wants to enjoy his retirement, visit his homes in Greece, and perhaps travel and see friends in Brazil, Russia, and Australia.
When asked if it’ll stay a bar once it’s sold, he doesn’t see why not. “Why change something when you’re making plenty of money?”
But, he says, it’ll likely still be a little confusing as to what, exactly, the business is. Even today, some customers aren’t sure.
“They still always come in and ask, ‘Is it a bar, or a liquor store?’” Liacopoulos says.