In another era, the strip of land at the northeast corner of Cooper Street and Central Avenue, just north of Cooper-Young, rumbled with activity. The area was home to railroad substation, a busy transportation at a time when rail was still the primary mode of transportation. At all hours, the clang of steel filled the air as freight and passenger cars jockeyed their way through the neighborhood headed to their far-flung destinations
Today the odd train still whizzes through, but the substation has long been erased, replaced by a commercial strip, including a gas station. But a new dining and entertainment complex set to open this month will harken back to the area’s rail history while also conjuring up the more innocent past times of that bygone era.
Railgarten, which opens April 5th, is the latest development from Taylor Berger, who also started the YoLo Frozen Yogurt stores, the Overton Square eatery Chiwawa, and is a partner in downtown’s Loflin Yard. For his new enterprise, Berger and his team looked to one of the latest retro trends, ping pong, for inspiration.
Ping pong, or table tennis, is the latest youth past time/playground staple to find renewed currency as a millennial entertainment trend. Like roller derby and dodgeball before it, the game has found a renewed interest among adult players looking for an ironic nostalgia kick. Ping pong has been a staple at Midtown music venue the Hi-Tone for years. More relevantly, bars like Chicago’s Ace Bounce and Spin have turned ping pong into a slick, glitzy nightlife alternative.
Railgarten, however, puts the concept on steroids, while also adding elements from Loflin Yard, Rec Room, and other establishments and at the same time attempting to stay true to venue’s setting. Sandwiched between the Mapco gas station at the corner and Blythe Street, Railgarten sits on an impressive 1.5 acres of land. In all the property contains four buildings, including the sites of the former Gary’s Antiques and the All Star ATA Martial Arts studio located in a former ice house.
Under the Railgarten banner the buildings will house a variety of destinations, including a diner, a boutique ice cream parlor, a ping pong emporium, and a hideaway cocktail bar. Connecting all the buildings as almost like a fifth “building” is an extensive outdoor recreation area that is planned to include a volleyball court, a whiffle ball/kickball field, room for the nail-driving game of Hammer-Schlagen, a picnic area, and an outdoor performance stage. Empty shipping containers also dot the landscape to connect the property to its name and former use.
Railgarten will open Wednesday, April 5th at 5 p.m. Five days of opening week entertainment will kick off that night with performances by the McStays and Cassette Set starting at sunset. On Thursday John Paul Keith plays at sunset. PXLS plays Friday and Deering & Down Saturday from 9 to 11 p.m. On Sunday there will be a bluegrass jam from 4 to 7 p.m.
The diner will be open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily starting Thursday, April 6th. The Ping Pong Bar will be open daily starting Thursday, April 6th, from 11 a.m. until midnight, 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. It will feature free ping pong every weekday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. for anyone having lunch or snacks in the diner or ping pong bar.