Chicago Joe’s auction: ‘Everything is being sold’

Photos, artifacts and signs that have adorned the inside — or the outside — of the North Center restaurant since 1988 will be auctioned at the end of the month.

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Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago history aficionados and lovers of the now-closed Chicago Joe’s still have a chance to take home a piece of the beloved restaurant.

Nearly every item that has adorned the inside — or the outside — will be auctioned at the end of the month. The building at 2256 W. Irving Park Road, is being torn down to make way for a new development.

Owner Brad Rompza said the restaurant had stayed in his family since his grandfather, Joe, opened the doors in 1988. He said it’s “bittersweet” to say goodbye and sell off all the ephemera his family accrued over the years.

“It will be interesting to see how it goes and what people want and everything. We’re getting calls from people from California about the sign outside,” Rompza said, referring to the 15-foot neon marquee that bears his grandpa’s name and adorns the building’s exterior.

Randy Donley, owner of Donley Auctions, has been working with Rompza’s family ahead of the sell off, which is open to the public and is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on April 30.

“The family loves Chicago so much and wanted to host the auction in the restaurant ... so that longtime customers, friends and family can bring home a piece of the restaurant with them,” Donley said.

“So many people over the years have shared birthday celebrations here and just have so many memories built into this restaurant and they really felt it was important that Chicagoans have the chance to own these items instead of sending them across the country to be auctioned off, and I love that,” Donley added. “Everything is being sold — I mean, the family only took five items with them.”

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While Donley noted that Rompza and his family haven’t yet taken a full inventory of what will be auctioned, he promised hundreds of items that need a new home.

In the coming weeks, the items to be auctioned off will be listed on the Donley Auctions website. Expect to see pictures, signs and other antiques, Donley said.

There are over 40 bungalow-style light fixtures and an original event poster starring Billie Holiday from Colosimo’s Café — a restaurant and nightclub owned by mafioso James “Big Jim” Colosimo. All that dates back to 1920s.

“One thing that surprised me is that most of these memorabilia are old and original because when they opened there was really an industry of mass-reproduced items,” Donley said. “They bought these items when they were already considered antiques and just took great care of them.”

The oldest item being auctioned, Donley said, is a large terra cotta lion’s head mounted on the wall. He estimates it’s from the late 1800s.

None of the items displayed will come down before the auction begins, Donley said. Auctioneers typically stand on a stage, where each item is displayed. But since every item holds a special meaning, attendees will move about the restaurant, from item to item, as they are auctioned off.

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Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“I am not pulling anything off the walls” before the sale,” Donley said, “so I will literally go walk over to each item and auction things right in place.”

Rompza said the treasure trove also includes Chicago sports memorabilia, like an autograph from White Sox Hall of Famer Minnie Minoso and a photo of Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. But Rompza imagines some old patrons probably just want a piece of the old oak bar where drinks were served for decades.

Asked how much cash he expects to bring in, Rompza said he has no expectations.

“We really don’t know what it could come out to,” he said. “But when the auctioneer came here, he just said, ‘You guys have unbelievable stuff’ — stuff that my grandfather collected for the last 50 years.”

Chicago Joe’s closed for good last year after 33 years in North Center, a move Rompza blamed on the pandemic shutdowns.

“The biggest thing was just loading up the kitchen with food and then having to shut down again,” he said. “And then finding new staff and cooks and then reopening, and then closing again. ... It was just a complete nightmare.”

Rompza said his family sold the property to Landrosh Development. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Rompza said there’s plans to build 42 apartments along with space for a new restaurant on the lot.

The family is considering opening a new restaurant elsewhere, while continuing to run the Burrwood Tap in Lincoln Park, he said.

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