En route home from a business trip last year, Jim Swatos decided he’d had it with his job. No more. That was that. He was getting out.
He’d grown weary of the hustle and bustle of commercial real estate – the constant appraising of properties across the country.
He decided, instead, to partner with his wife Ann Marie and purchase a bar.
They bought Zambonie’s, at Madison & Ferdinand, which used to be Schuler’s Corner.
Ann Marie celebrated her 21st birthday at Schuler’s and Jim also used to frequent the bar that hosted “quarter beer nights.” The couple, however, never crossed paths there.
They met in a Triton College business class. Jim went on to become a success in commercial real estate, while Ann Marie concentrated on residential. Ann is still a realtor at F.C. Pilgrim in Oak Park.
The ethos of Jim’s decision to leave his former profession had much to do with the family that he and Ann Marie created. After thirteen years of marriage and the arrival of three sons and a daughter, he decided he wanted to be home more often.
From the outset, the couple wanted to purchase a place on Madison Street. They felt a strong affinity for Forest Park, having lived here, prior to their move to River Forest. They became excited when they found their old college watering hole was available. Ann Marie loves the tin ceiling and they uncovered the original tile floor. They’ve hired an architect and plan to shut the place down for remodeling in April.
The two love rehabbing; having updated every house they’ve lived in. They plan to expose the brick on the west wall and relocate the bar to that side. Windows that open onto the sidewalk will be installed, along with new lighting and paneling. The village is allowing them to have an outdoor patio on the Ferdinand side.
The Swatos family has received a warm welcome to Forest Park from fellow bar owners and village officials. Ann Marie works behind the scenes with planning and marketing, while Jim fills in behind the bar. “It’s totally different from commercial real estate,” Jim said, “It’s kind of fun.”
In addition to creating a fun atmosphere, which will include two new pool tables, the bar has a full kitchen with a pizza oven. They hope to offer a select menu of pub food favorites. They plan to rename the tavern Firewater, which the dictionary defines as “a strong alcoholic beverage” and Jim associates with Native Americans. After all, the location has long been a haunt for Blackhawks fans.
Jim and Ann Marie are new to the bar business and still learning their way. They’ve found that bartenders are a breed apart – the day server being a different breed than the night one. They’ve learned to contend with the occasional rowdy customer. Even their kids are pitching in, with 9-year-old James volunteering to wash glasses.
Firewater will reopen in May.
“It’s got a lot of potential,” Ann Marie said.
This story was first published on Jan. 11. The following corrections were made: Ann Marie Swatos is a realtor at F.C. Pilgrim, in Oak Park, and has not left that position. Her husband, Jim, worked in commercial real estate, but was not an agent. They have been married for thirteen years, not twenty. They have four children, but not four sons. Instead, they have three sons and one daughter: James, 9; Isabella, 6; Andrew, 4; and William, 2.