Hamburger Mary's owners eyeing new theater venue in Andersonville

The owners of Hamburger Mary's want to turn the former Star Gaze nightclub space in Andersonville into a two-space venue that would be home to Hell in a Handbag Productions as well as hosting other theatrical groups. But Mary's co-owner, Ashley Wright, says the building's owners appear to have suddenly rejected their proposal in favor of leasing the space to a restaurant—something this stretch of Clark Street is not lacking for.

The neighborhood blog A-Ville Daily first reported this morning that the Mary's owners had designs—literally—on turning 5419 N Clark St, empty since the closing of Star Gaze a year and a half ago, into a venue sporting a 100-seat mainstage, a 44-seat cabaret theater and a lobby bar. But Wright, who owns Hamburger Mary's with his brother Brandon, tells me the deal is looking less than likely at this point.

"We had been negotiating for the lease, but the landlords have decided to rent it to another restaurant instead," Wright says. "So what we've been trying to do is change their mind." Wright notes that more than 50 Clark Street businesses have signed a letter of support for the theater plan, which he says also has the support of the League of Chicago Theatres and 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman.

Wright says when the building's owners, Newcastle Limited, asked for additional information on potential theater tenants, he secured verbal commitments from Hell in a Handbag, which would be in residence at the space, as well as About Face Theatre and Bailiwick Chicago, all of whom have previously held performance events at Mary's Attic, Hamburger Mary's upstairs bar. "We also were in the works with forming a production arm [so] we could eventually produce our own original shows," he says.

Though Mary's Attic, not to mention the Neo-Futurarium, seem to offer proof that there's an audience for theatrical events in Andersonville, Wright gets the impression that Newcastle isn't convinced. "They felt it was less risky, I guess, to put in another restaurant. They answer to their shareholders; they're looking at their risk factor. But I haven't given up on it." I've left messages with two representatives of Newcastle requesting comment; they have yet to respond.

"This would bring so many opportunities: prime-time, late-night, weekends during the day for kids' shows… We'd have no problem filling the space," says David Cerda, Hell in a Handbag's artistic director, noting that theater spaces of this size are few and far between both in Andersonville and citywide. "I mean, nothing against restaurants, but this would be so much better for the neighborhood."

Wright says he has hopes to make the venue "a little main street theater" for Andersonville. "It really doesn't work on a side street, or anywhere that's not on the main street of Andersonville, which is, you know, Clark Street," he adds, noting that the only available space on the strip of a comparable size to 5419 is an empty garage that would require much more renovation, and whose proximity to the Philadelphia Church across the street would preclude it getting a liquor license. "That's the unfortunate thing—there are other places for a restaurant to go. But really, if the theater doesn't go here it's probably just not going to happen."

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)