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Lago Wine Bar reopening with new name, design after settling ‘copycat’ lawsuit

Lago Wine Bar, 3207 N. Sheffield. | Provided in lawsuit

First they were accused of copying a New York City restaurant chain’s menu and design. Then they were charged with stealing the name of an Italian institution in River North.

And now, Lago Wine Bar in Lake View is scrapping it all and reopening under an entirely new concept.

“We just want to separate ourselves, have a new start and wash our hands of all these silly mistakes,” the restaurant’s general manager Ari Cohn said Wednesday.

Within a few months of opening near Sheffield and Belmont on New Year’s Eve 2017, Lago Wine Bar “ran into some troubles,” Cohn said — chiefly among them an 11-count federal trade infringement lawsuit filed by Passon & Passon Corp.

The chain branded Lago Wine Bar a “copycat restaurant,” alleging the owners had ripped off the whole concept — from bathroom floor tiles and light fixtures, to utensils and menus — from their six New York establishments.

The lawsuit was settled last month. Terms weren’t released, but Cohn said a design overhaul was part of the deal.

Disclaimers on the wine bar’s website and Google excerpt now proclaim it “is not owned by, affiliated with, or associated with Passon & Passon” restaurants.

Closely monitoring that suit was Guido Nardini, co-owner of Club Lago, a fixture at Superior and Orleans since 1952. He said he welcomed Lago Wine Bar managers and owner Lauras Grigaliunas soon after they came to town, and that he urged them to find a new name, but no-show reservations soon piled up due to customer confusion.

Club Lago, 331 W. Superior. | Sun-Times file photo
Club Lago, 331 W. Superior. | Sun-Times file photo

“I make meatballs and pour whiskey. It’s not my job to tell them what they want to call themselves,” Nardini said. “They just can’t use our name.”

Grigaliunas insisted Wednesday “we didn’t steal that name. It’s not trademarked or anything. But we’re still moving forward and changing it anyway.”

He and Cohn say they are in the middle of a “complete re-concept” and will unveil an overhauled interior and a new name by mid-September. They’ll still focus on Italian cuisine, with small plates and an extended wine and cocktail list, but it’ll feature “different food, a different atmosphere,” Grigaliunas said.

The restaurant will have to close for about a week for remodeling. They’re still mulling “the most feasible names,” Grigaliunas said.

“I’m glad they listened,” Nardini said. “I look forward to next month and again welcoming them to Chicago.”

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