Two Greektown favorites torn down, exposing old mural — and changing face of neighborhood
The mural featuring a seascape in Greece lines a now exterior wall of what was once the Pegasus restaurant. The site is slated for a mixed-use building with luxury units in the rapidly developing West Loop.
In 1990, Yiannis Melidis hired a Serbian painter to create a mural that would stretch along an inside wall of Pegasus, the Greek restaurant he was building.
The artist came at night after construction workers left. Yiannis and his wife, Maria provided him with a picture book of the Greek islands for inspiration and obliged a request from the artist to provision him nightly with a six pack of Old Style and several polish sausages from vendors on nearby Maxwell Street.
“After a week he hadn’t started anything,” recalled the couple’s son, Ceasar Melidis, who said his parents thought: “This guy’s just eating and drinking and sleeping and staring at walls.”
Once he got started, though, he was done in three days. The mural became a well-known feature in a restaurant that became a mainstay of Greektown for nearly three decades. It closed in 2017 following a rent hike.
This week, the building was reduced to rubble. The mural, which shares a wall with an adjoining building, was all that remained.
“The mural stands out from the rubble, similar to how many of the beautiful temples and ancient architectural ruins still stood amongst the rubble after the many wars and empires took over the lands in Greece where those temples and ruins stood and still stand,” said Melidis, who used to work with his dad at Pegasus but now lives in the suburbs.
It also shows the evolving face of Greektown. The Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop also closed in 2017, while two other mainstay restaurants, Roditys and Parthenon, closed within about a year of Pegasus shutting its doors. Costa’s burned down more than a decade ago.
Santorini, which was immediately next door to Pegasus, closed in the fall of 2020 after 31 years in operation. It was also demolished this week.
Many other businesses and restaurants along Halsted are Greek owned and maintain a decidedly Greek characteristic, but most Greeks who lived there have moved out of the neighborhood, often to the suburbs.
And the development that has transformed much of the West Loop, specifically the high-priced Fulton Market district just to the north, is changing the face of Greektown, too.
A mixed use building is planned for the property that formerly housed Pegasus and Santorini. Urbanize.com reported that plans include 80 “luxury rental units” with 4,200 square feet of retail space.
The project’s developers couldn’t be reached for comment, but George Reveliotis, a commissioner for the Greektown Special Services Area, said Greek cuisine could be returning to the spot.
“The owners have expressed a desire to install a Greek restaurant on the first floor, so hopefully that pans out,” said Reveliotis, who owns Artopolis Bakery, which is just south of the property on Halsted.
Reveliotis said the demolition of both spots shows how “every neighborhood evolves, and we’re thankful for that.”
“People go to Fulton Market because it’s a place to see and be seen but they’re going to pay twice or three times for something comparable in Greektown, there’s a place for everybody, but we’re thankful they are there,” he said.
The area is still home to the National Hellenic Museum — which remains closed during the pandemic — and a Greek festival and parade, noted Dino Armiros, a museum trustee.
“The identity of the neighborhood is still strong,” he said.
Despite those who lament the changing face of Greektown, business owners agreed that an influx of young urban adults professionals coming into the area will translate to more customers.
“We’re not threatened by new development,” said Tessie Koumi, owner of Spectrum Bar & Grill in Greektown, who ticked off a list of other Greek restaurants that continue to make the neighborhood a destination, such as the much-loved Greek Islands. “We’re here to stay and there will always be a strong Greek element here.”
Melidis, for one, hopes the mural at his dad’s shuttered eatery will also survive.
“Hopefully, the mural will remain part of whatever building goes up there,” he said. After all, he noted, the story behind its creation shows the “melting pot and mingling of these old neighborhoods and cultures in Chicago.”