Customers learned on December 30 that Smylie Brothers had closed.

On Friday night, a couple of potential customers walked up to the front door of Smylie Brothers Brewing on Oak Street, trying to get in for a bite and a beer.

But the door was locked. Nobody was inside.

“It’s closed,” said one of the disappointed food-and-drink seekers, as the pair walked away.

And indeed, on the eve of New Year’s Eve, the busiest partying night of the year, Smylie Brothers had closed its doors for good.

In a statement posted on Facebook, owners of the brewpub thanked customers and employees, saying “your support over the past 8 years is truly appreciated.”

However, the post continued, “Sadly, as a result of the pandemic, we are no longer able to operate the business and we are now closed.”

Besides the pandemic holding down the number of customers and making it harder to find employees, Annie Coaklely, the executive director of the Downtown Evanston marketing group, said the lack of a lunch business was probably also a factor.

With more people working from home during and post-pandemic, that’s fewer employees downtown, and thus fewer customers looking for a noontime meal.

In September, Smylie Brothers also closed its Lakeview (Chicago) brewery and restaurant, after only a year in operation.

As for Flat Top Grill, the Church Street location has been shut since earlier in December.

A sign on the front door says “Due to severe plumbing issues, We will be closed for the Day. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

However, that sign has been up for about two weeks, and Coakley confirms that the restaurant has closed for good.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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25 Comments

  1. Damn. Get ready for a turbulent 2023. You will see more closings, going to be very sad to see.

    The pandemic lockdowns crushed small businesses. Absolutely crushed them.

    Those that survived will be limping through 2023 and into 2024. Rising prices, rising inflation with no help this time is going to crush even more small businesses.

    Target, Walgreens, CVS, Amazon, Burger King, McDonalds, Starbucks = the future of Evanston. They will be the only ones who can survive overpriced rent. Facts and data.

    To compare rents, in Chicago, a 1400 square foot commercial rental in Lakeview is around $4500-$5500. In Evanston it’s around the same. Only difference is Chicago has 10X the amount of foot traffic per week. Most renters in Evanston have to pay into the buildings taxes too, which makes no sense. That’s a rarity in Chicago, they only do that for the corporations like Taco Bell, BK, etc. In Evanston, they make the renters pay it.

    If you’re a business owner, open a business in Andersonville, Lakeview or Lincoln Park – Evanston is not a smart place to open a business right now and I don’t see it getting better in the future.

    Just my opinion sprinkled in with some facts & data.

  2. We tried to visit Smylie’s 3-4 times over the last several years (we moved to Evanston in 2020). Each time, there were reduced hours and/or other COVID-related restrictions after vaccines were available into 2021/2022. Eventually we stopped trying. It’s a tough environment right now, businesses need to work really hard to survive and pull people back out into their establishments. I wish the best for the owners and hope that, in general, people get out and experience more in 2023. It will have a positive impact on our collective psychological state as well as the livelihood of the small businesses we love so much.

  3. Most commercial leases are structured as triple net where expenses such as taxes, insurance and common area maintenance are paid by the tenant. This is not unique to Evanston. This is a standard applied to any tenant whether independent or national. Oftentimes landlords will create what is called modified gross rent that ultimately includes the taxes the landlord pays on the property. Landlords are not going to absorb taxes as that would make owning the property economically infeasible. It’s the same with residential rentals. The tenant pays for taxes through their monthly rent. But Frank is right. It is likely going to be a turbulent 18 to 24 months. Let’s work together to get through it by supporting our small business community by shopping and eating local.

  4. As a neighbor and diner, I am sad to see Smylie Brothers close its doors. It’s a sad irony that Mike Smylie authored an editorial on behalf of Downtown Evanston imploring the city to support NU’s proposal for 10-12 concerts a year at a new stadium because of its opportunity to introduce new customers to our downtown restaurants.

    I hope the opponents to concerts at the proposed Ryan Field understand the desperate needs of our local establishments for more customers. Al’s Deli and Edzo’s both have fund raising campaigns to keep their doors open. Flat Top and Smylie Brothers are gone. Are more to follow? While we debate the terms of the largest private investment ever in Evanston, our small restaurants would love the “problem” of thousands of new visitors looking to dine and (clutch my pearls) drink in Evanston.

  5. People acting like a small recession that is primarily hitting tech the reason to blame here. It isn’t. You know why Smylie Brothers closed? It was a poorly managed, huge restaurant that offered middling food. That’s it. Other restaurants have opened in Evanston since the pandemic are thriving. To blame taxes, to blame inflation (which has already started to come down) is just to make excuses for a bad restaurant.

    1. Thank you. The last time I tried to eat there last year, myself and some others waiting to enter were barked at and harassed by the inept “hostess”, it was akin to the treatment I received from East German border guards when I crossed into East Berlin via the old Checkpoint Charlie. OTOH places like Ridgeville Tap and The Celtic Knot are booming, as they provide excellent customer service and food… I am happy to give them my business.

  6. Thank you Smylie Brothers for the fun and memories. I moved to Evanston in March 2019, my dad flew in for a visit the week after. We went to Smylie’s for a great dad/daughter dinner and lots of laughs. My otherwise healthy dad died suddenly of COVID-19 in early April 2020. So, every time I went to or walked past Smylie’s – I always smiled b/c it was my first dinner out in Evanston and it was with my dad!

    Thank you.

  7. This is a warning shot, Evanston. Better stop your purposeful neglect of downtown else all those small biz owners and employees are in trouble.

  8. Is have no facts or figures, but am wondering, is there a big difference in renting in Evanston versusWilmette? It seems like restaurants in Wilmette have survived Covid better than in Evanston.

  9. I’m harping on the meter parking. Many people will go to Wilmette to dine with 2 hr limits and no meters. We have a better variety of restaurants, I think. Most depend upon staff who are friendly and chefs who are masters. Why doesn’t someone from the City Council or Annie Coaklely, the executive director of the Downtown Evanston marketing group, interview Daniel Kelch and Laura Van Dorf, successful owner and chef of first LuLu’s, then Five and Dime and Blue Tavern on Davis St. His food is innovative, moderately priced, staff loyal and friendly, and he knows how to listen to his customers and adapt. I know he would have excellent ideas of how to help Evanston restaurants. Please ask for his thoughts.

  10. For an informative interview with Daniel Kelch of his Core and Rind Hospitality that owns LuLu’s, Blue Horse Tavern, Taco Diablo and Five and Dime at 1026 Davis Street, check out this excellent article in the Daily Northwestern: https://dailynorthwestern.com/2020/09/20/city/the-blue-horse-tavern-to-open-later-this-year-as-part-of-core-rind-hospitality/
    Daniel explains why he made Lulu’s a more virtual restaurant, but with customer favorites still available at his Blue Horse Tavern. Then, in response to changing trends, opened a large bar, highlighting local bourbons and beers and softening the Japanese style blond wood seats with cushioning, plus evolving changes with his other adjoining concepts. Note the loyalty of his skilled staff, well trained chefs, and response to evolving factors of doing restaurant business in Evanston. He can serve high caliber fare with moderate prices. He can certainly tell us what Evanston could do to help small businesses thrive here.

  11. Places like five and dime right near there seem to be doing ok with the parking situation and Evanston dynamics. Smylie bros had sub par food and was run poorly. Not a good combo in this economy. Not to mention a much better brewery option like Double Clutch right down the street.

  12. Hoping a new restaurant will go in that space. SB food was ok, (I like the food at Soul and Smoke more) we mainly went there because the space was so inviting and it worked well if you had a larger group of people.

  13. Smylie Bros employees were creeps. I’m not surprised that they closed. They didn’t care about customers.

  14. Smylie made a long vacant building into an interesting physical space however I agree that the food was mediocre and a number of the employees were not welcoming at all.

    I’m sure their decision to close both of their locations was a complicated and multi faceted one. However, the current Evanston business environment, lack of public safety, and the large number of vagrants flocking to our city certainly could not have helped.

    It seems for every new restaurant opening, we have more closing down lately.

    Lack of downtown workers isn’t a valid excuse any longer – why are other communities nearby and areas of Chicago thriving?

  15. As a regular at this bar- premature expansion, letting food quality continually decline, and not making an effort to retain good/skilled staff is what killed this business. It was clear that the focus went to the new location in Chicago as indicated by the roof leaking from multiple places in Evanston. I was seated at the bar and the bartender warned me to move, saying I was in “the splash zone”. As soon as the rain started it downpoured where I had been seated, inside the restaurant. He wasn’t kidding. This happened multiple times over the course of a month. I asked how it hadn’t been fixed yet and the response made it seem that it wasn’t a priority of the owner. I really felt for the staff. There was a group that had been there for a while that knew their stuff and kinda kept it all together but I got the feeling that they weren’t getting much to work with towards the end. It was sad watching their enthusiasm drain. One day a few months ago all of them were gone. They probably saw this coming. The people that came after them seemed like they got zero training whatsoever. This place could have continued to do great things under different ownership but I hope that staff wind up somewhere better.

  16. Disappointed and frustrated to see more and more Evanston retailers and restaurants closing their doors for good. I get the part there’s always someplace better managed, has tastier food, friendlier staff, nicer amenities, etc. but it’s never the same as the original establishment. Add in the empty storefronts and it feels worse. Good, bad, or otherwise, it’s hard to envision an all-encompassing solution.

  17. Look what Evanston’s elected leaders – mayor, alders and economic development gurus like Paul Zalzamak (and residents who vote for these people) have done to this place in just a few short years. Used to be a nice college town (albeit a fairly racist and segregated one just like Chicago to the south). Then leaders somehow decided a small college town of 80,000 had the resources to act as a haven for all the homeless, low income, addicts and mentally ill of cook county. So we build more affordable housing, convert hotels to homeless shelters and look to attract as many mentally unstable folks as we can for ideological reasons. Ideology matters more here than public safety, property values, school performance, fiscal stability or a vibrant downtown. All of these indicators have fallen off a cliff and this dates to well before covid. Zalzamak will feed us stories about how the vacancy rate downtown is only 15% when it’s clearly closer to 35%. He’ll tell us vacancies are because workers haven’t come back but we’ve never seen any data on daytime workers and in reality Evanston never had a large office worker population in the 30 years I’ve been here. Instead we’re a college town with 10,000 rich kids from around the world who can’t bother to walk 500 feet from campus to spend money in a dead downtown because all they see is blight, vacancy and vagrants. Meanwhile on the north side of Evanston we have mostly neo-libs who choose to drive to towns nearby to shop and eat because they’re too lazy to walk 500 feet to central. Even chains like Starbucks are closing up shop on central. There may be a chance we could get some rational new leadership next election but that will likely be the last chance before this place is too far gone.

    1. Leo, I have to say, you have nailed it. Except for the part of generalizing that Evanston is racist.

  18. Smylie Brothers closed due too poor ownership that didn’t listen to the people actually doing the work to manage the business…period…. The pandemic is just an excuse to save face on their part.

  19. After 20 yrs owning a home near downtown, we are looking to move to Andersonville or Wilmette. Both are safer, better shopping/dining and sense of community.

    Evanston is increasingly a city of transients (students and vagrants) who have no meaningful commitment to the social fabric of our community. City council priorities are misguided by woke ideology that is accelerating our decline.

    1. Probably the right decision to go to wilmette instead of Evanston at this point. Cities to the north of us don’t welcome crime and they have better schools. But anyplace in the city of Chicago has all the issues Evanston has on a much larger scale. Chicago is a ticking time bomb as far as its fiscal challenges go. Not a smart move to own property in Chicago.

  20. I also think they maybe expanded too much, too quickly. They opened a 2nd location in Chicago which they closed last September, but they also bought a closed brewery on the north side of Chicago and were trying to make a go of canning their beers and selling them in crowded beer shelves in liquor stores.

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