The Town Hall cops know him. The Boystown bar-staff who clock out near dawn also know him well. In fact, most Lakeview East residents, who thrive on the neighborhood's local flair, know Chuck Evans at Melrose Restaurant ( 3233 N. Broadway ) . He's worked there for over a decade, and very morning he commutes some 30 miles to the north side eatery to greet his regulars. Better put, his regulars come to see him.
They are the kinds of reciprocal relationships that might otherwise be perceived in urban delis during simpler times, before a work e-mail could spoil your Reuben. Regulars come in and head straight to Evans' section, or they'll wait until one of his tables opens up, even when other spots are clearly available. He knows them by name and often has their orders placed before they sit down. It's a chummy scene. Behind the familiar exchanges, though, Evans has a pulse on their backstories: Their ups and downs, family situations, and their health. You can sense a shared a history.
"A lot has changed since I moved here in '81. It was a rough neighborhood back then. It was also a real heyday for the boys until AIDS hit us hard. Seems like I lost half my friends and co-workers. So, it makes my day to see some of my regulars. And, when I don't see them, especially my older customers, I get concerned, " Evans said.
For his fans, no doubt, the feeling is mutual. In 2003, Evans grappled with his own health problems and had to be hospitalized before undergoing weeks of rehabilitative therapy. He was unable to work for several months.
"They came to the hospital, offered to help out wherever they could. One of my regulars, Steve, was there three or four times a week. That's what stands out, knowing that you're needed," Evans recalled.
To the uninitiated, Evans is more like a concierge, sans the pomp and circumstance. His relaxed, yet confident demeanor makes him a prime target for chatty Cathy sorts ( a potential nightmare during a brunch rush ) . Nonetheless, he's a good sport. He doles out the 411 on where to go and what to do. He chats with parents about the gayborhood their sons are itching to move into. And, like any local expert, he talks a little baseball ( even though he's a Sox fan ) .
He's been in the restaurant biz for 40 years ( as an owner, manager, server, and cook ) . He has seen Lakeview go from rags to riches to strollers. And, he's not burned out in the slightest.
"This is the best neighborhood in Chicago. It's where I married my husband, Doug of 15 years. I still enjoy coming to work. I really do. I can't believe it after all these years," he said.
So, with the countless number of hip foodie hangouts in Lakeview, why go see Chuck? As one patron told me, "Because he adds a personal touch in a big city full of assholes." Yes, Chicagoans are tough. Still, there's no denying that a good feeling goes a long way, especially when it come to customer service, or a kind ear.