ST. JOHN | Northwoods Hearty Home Cookin' & Saloon, a popular Tri-Town restaurant and nightclub, has shuttered its rustic wooden doors.
Northwoods had been one of Northwest Indiana's largest restaurants, with a 15,000-square-foot log building on a sprawling 9.3-acre site that included a pond and a wraparound patio where region residents spent many a summer night sipping drafts of Leinenkugel beer. Northwoods also was a big venue for live music that regularly hosted acts such as Nicole Jamrose.
Former owner Jeff Fryzel leased the rough-hewn building, which is meant to evoke a woodsy Wisconsin lodge, to a new operator in February after deciding to get out of the restaurant business in favor of a real estate career. The new management closed Northwoods on Tuesday, and Fryzel hopes to sell or lease it to someone who can reopen it and keep it going.
"A lot of memories were made there," he said. "I was there for almost 10 years. I'll miss all the friendships I made, whether with customers or employees. The employees were the best in the country, and they made the restaurant."
The restaurant is not affiliated with Northwoods Hearty Home Cookin' & Saloon in Crete, which remains open. The two similarly named and themed restaurants have operated independently of each other since 2005, said Susan Maschmeyer, co-owner of the Illinois Northwoods.
The St. John Northwoods, at 8101 Wicker Ave., opened in 2004.The original family who owned it had fond memories of the Northwoods of Wisconsin, and named many of the menu items after landmarks such as Chippewa Falls and the Eagle River, Fryzel said.
Northwoods seated up to 450 diners and served up home-style fare, such as fried walleye, pot roast and cornbread stuffing. At night, bands, DJs and karaoke singers took over the stage. Big Chicago acts such as M&R Rush, Nick Danger and Jerry Clemons performed on weekends.
"We had every major band in the Chicago area," Fryzel said.
The restaurant also had an annual Summer Fest, a Sept. 11 memorial tribute ceremony, benefits such as 500 Turkeys that provided turkey dinners to needy families on Thanksgiving, and frequent theme parties, including a red Solo cup night.
A number of people have expressed interest in reviving the restaurant, but Fryzel wants to make sure they have enough experience and capital to keep it in business.
"There's a lot of interest in buying it," he said. "But nobody has any money."