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Parthenon ‘Opa!’ no more — famed Greektown eatery closes doors

Christos Liakouras, owner of The Parthenon restaurant, 314 S. Halsted, talks about the city's plans for Greektown in 1996. File Photo by Rich Hein/Sun-Times

On Monday, loyal customers streamed into The Parthenon for their last meal at Greektown’s oldest restaurant.

Only they didn’t know it.

By Tuesday, a sign was up at the restaurant, which is widely credited with inventing saganaki — the flaming cheese appetizer that begins with a waiter’s scream of “Opa!”

“After over 48 years in business we are sad to inform you that we are permanently closed,” the sign read. “We want to thank you for your support over the years and for the wonderful memories!”

James Manolakos, who runs the Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop with his sister Athena next door, called the Parthenon’s closing “heartbreaking.”

The Parthenon restaurant. Photo by Mitch Dudek.
The Parthenon restaurant. Photo by Mitch Dudek.

“I didn’t think much of it before seeing them close up yesterday. It was actually heartbreaking,” Manolakos, 38, said. “It was open Monday. And I walked by Tuesday and noticed the valet guys weren’t there and the sign on the door. And there were people moving around and taking their things.”

Manolakos said his family celebrated life events at the storied restaurant, including his sister’s baptism. It made the closure emotional for him.

“There are a lot of older restaurants around here, some that are past their peak days. But they have such a loyal clientele that don’t want to go anywhere else. That was the Parthenon,” Manolakos said.

Christos Liakouras and his daughter, Joanna, co-owned and operated the restaurant, according to Joel Rieff, who runs the business next door.

“He’s a Greek Town celebrity,” Rieff said.

“He started flaming saganaki,” Rieff said of Christos Liakouras, noting that a picture on the wall of the restaurant shows Liakouras singeing his hair in the process.

Jose Jaimes slices gyros at The Parthenon, 314 S. Halsted in 2011. File Photo | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times
Jose Jaimes slices gyros at The Parthenon, 314 S. Halsted in 2011. File Photo | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

The Parthenon opened its doors in 1968 with three employees, taking in $110 on its first day of business, according to the restaurant’s website. By 1971, owners Chris and Bill Liakouras purchased more space for an expansion, adding another 190 seats.

On its website, the 48-year-old restaurant bills itself as “ the city’s oldest full-service, classic Greek restaurant.”

Sign in window at The Parthenon. Photo by Mitch Dudek.
Sign in window at The Parthenon. Photo by Mitch Dudek.

But the restaurant, located at 314 S. Halsted St., failed an inspection on March 22 and, although some violations had been corrected, the restaurant failed a re-inspection on March 29, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. The restaurant was ticketed with several violations, including for rodent droppings and roaches spotted in the kitchen.

From The Parthenon’s web site.
From The Parthenon’s web site.

The restaurant closed for several weeks but later re-opened.

The Parthenon also failed inspection on Aug. 4, 2015, but passed re-inspection 10 days later.

Signs for a new bar called the Ambassador Public House are already up outside the Parthenon’s former banquet hall space. But it’s unclear what will take up the Parthenon restaurant’s space.