After almost 10 years at 7445 Madison St., Scratch Kitchen and Lounge is moving into bigger digs – complete with a full-fledged kitchen and a second-floor private event space.
The burger and craft beer establishment is only moving a few doors down, taking over Slainte Irish Pub, 7505 Madison St., which has been on the market for years. SKL owner Patrick O’Brien told the Review that he’s looking to do more than add capacity. Slainte’s second-floor room will allow it to host private events, and a full-service kitchen will allow his business to significantly expand its menu.
While O’Brien’s trademark take on made-from-scratch bar food isn’t going away, they will be expanding the menu, and, SKL will be offering cocktails in addition to craft beer. He said he was responding to changes in his regulars’ tastes, as well as what he saw as the general shift in Madison Street vibe away from old-school bars and more toward restaurants with bar components.
March 26 will be SKL’s last day at the original location. O’Brien said they need to finish renovating the new space, especially the second floor, but he hopes to re-open on April 3.
The “Scratch Kitchen” name refers to the bar concept which, while not unique to Chicago, was a first for Forest Park. Every ingredient, including the ketchup and pickles, was made from scratch. O’Brien drew on his experience as a restaurant chef to prepare high-quality version of the bar-style food.
SLK’s success allowed him to open other eateries in the area – Scratch on Lake, Lathrop House and the since-shuttered District Kitchen and Tap in the Oak Park Arts District – but he acknowledges it has been a rocky road.
The pandemic hurt Scratch Kitchen as much as other Madison Street establishments, and he admitted that the spike in rowdy behavior on the corridor in the first half of 2021 gave him pause.
“No one can argue there were problems on Madison Street,” O’Brien said. “When I closed for renovations [for 10 months], I wasn’t sure I would reopen.”
Since then, he believed that Madison Street has “corrected itself,” but the vibe changed as well.
“It looks like the mantra is not a big bar, but a big bar-restaurant,” O’Brien said.
The Slainte space will allow SKL to move in that direction, since they will now be able to use a full-fledged commercial kitchen “instead of cooking behind the bar.” But they are not moving too far from their roots. The plan, O’Brien said, is to start making tavern-style and deep-dish style pizza, which will be available to order, and they will be offering prime rib, meatloaf and various “comfort foods.” The drink menu will be expanded as well, with Scratch offering cocktails and martinis.
In practical terms, the new space would triple Scratch Kitchen’s capacity. The current space holds up to 40 people – Slainte’s first floor can sit 120. The upstairs party room will allow them to host music acts and private events. O’Brien said it will have a full bar and will be able to hold 150 people. He also said they plan to build a gazebo in the back – which will also allow them to host barbeque nights.
When asked whether he thinks the changes will go over well with the regulars, O’Brien said when Scratch Kitchen opened the customers tended to be around college age. As they grew older, their tastes have changed.
“I think the clientele is getting older, and they have families, and they want to drink out of a martini glass,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think anyone is going to complain.”