Mary Lou Turner had become a regular at Horan’s Snug before it closed suddenly in late July of 2009. The corned beef sandwich, she said, was always pretty tasty and she enjoyed the company of her favorite bartender, Kim “Kimmy” Gonzalez.
For the first time in seven months – and just two days after the bar reopened under new ownership and with a new name – Turner was back at her old spot for a corned beef sandwich and a drink with her favorite bartender, who has also returned.
“It was nice to see a friendly face,” Turner said of finding Gonzalez behind the bar. “We’ll be in here once or twice a week. I like people waiting on me rather than cooking.”
Of course, a lot has changed at 7214 Madison over the last few months. Dennis Miller, an experienced restaurateur and bar manager is running things now with his business partner, Frank Battaglia. The corner spot is catering to a hipper evening crowd, too, with a dozen brilliant flat-screen televisions and a menu that features Kobe beef sliders served with truffle butter and caramelized onions. The interior is entirely remodeled and the space feels bigger than when it operated as Horan’s.
The new name has also left some folks wondering what exactly the place is all about. Duck Fat Tavern and Grill, explained Miller, cooks its fries in duck fat.
“It’s freaking expensive,” Miller said with a laugh over the preparation of his signature side dish.
Many years ago, Miller got his start as a waiter with Lettuce Entertain You and has since opened a handful of restaurants in Lake Bluff, Mt. Prospect and Evanston, to name a few. Most recently, he helped manage Avenue Ale House in Oak Park. With Duck Fat, Miller is shooting for an “upscale tavern” that pulls people in with an affordable but interesting menu. There are three different styles of macaroni and cheese, for example, each baked with four different cheeses and served in a cast iron skillet.
“You have to give people value,” Miller said. “The customer is pretty sophisticated now. There’s a lot of places out there.”
The location is steeped in history, having been operated as Horan’s since 1979, and Miller said that in no way does he want to push away the regulars who’ve waited to see what the renovations would bring. That’s why Gonzalez has returned to pour drinks, and it’s why the menu promises a corned beef sandwich prepared the way Horan’s used to serve.
“I’ve been coming to this corner for 40 years,” said Jim, an affable guy who’s quick to praise – and rib – his fellow quaffers. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, just three days after Duck Fat opened its doors, Jim was back for his second visit and getting used to the new digs. It feels a little like some joint in Lincoln Park that he’d probably avoid, but the space is roomier, he said, and there are some nice touches that definitely would make him feel guilty if he spit on the floor.
“I like what I see,” said Jim, who’d rather not tell you his full name. “They did a nice job.”