The owners of Chicago’s legendary downtown haunt, the Billy Goat Tavern, have been considering expanding to San Diego’s ballpark district.
The tavern, duly famous for its association with the six-decade curse of the Chicago Cubs and for becoming fodder for John Belushi’s regular “Saturday Night Live” skit in the mid-1970s, when he played a frenzied Greek cook ranting, “cheezborger, cheezborger,” is planning to take its “cheezborgers” on the road.
One destination, according to its owner, Sam Sianis, is near Petco Park in Downtown San Diego. The possible expansion was first reported in Crain’s Chicago Business, a weekly newspaper.
Bill Sianis, the general manager of the Billy Goat and Sam’s eldest son, said “somebody from San Diego contacted us, saying they had been here before and had heard about the billy goat curse on the Cubs, and asked if we would be interested in moving near the Padres’ new location.”
Although Sianis did not recall the name of the real estate brokerage, Corinna Gattasso, a senior associate in the San Diego-based Burnham Real Estate’s Urban Retail Group, confirmed that her office had spoken with Sianis on five separate occasions from the end of 2003 until April 2004.
Gattasso, whose group represents more than 90 percent of leasable retail space in the East Village area of Downtown San Diego, said that contacting an out-of-town restaurant, such as a Chicago tavern, to relocate to San Diego was not out of the ordinary.
“Typically, how we get our leads is that we investigate prospective tenants that will complement a neighborhood and a building,” she said.
At the time, though, the owners were involved in moving the Billy Goat Tavern to its first location outside of the Chicago metro area , Washington, D.C.
“We were interested in heading to San Diego to take a look, but we were busy with D.C.” said Bill Sianis, who said the Washington, D.C., location will open this summer.
At this point, Sianis is assigning a little more than a 50 percent probability that the tavern will make the move to San Diego next year. But he said he is ready to take a second look at the Padres and the ballpark area.
The Billy Goat Tavern has been closely associated with the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise since October 1945, when the tavern owner, William “Billy Goat” Sianis , the uncle of current owner Sam Sianis , entered Game 4 of the World Series, accompanied by none other than his pet goat (named Murphy).
According to the lore, Sianis and his goat were ejected from the game, and upon leaving, Sianis declared that the Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat was barred from the stadium. From that point on, the once-revered Cubs remained a losing franchise, with only 16 winning seasons and never again appearing in the World Series.
The San Diego Padres had a hand in extending the curse in 1984, when the Cubs’ owners took steps to “lift” the Billy Goat curse, inviting Sam Sianis and his goat to a game at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won their way to their first postseason games and division title in almost 40 years and continued winning the first two games of the National League Championship Series, where they faced the Padres. The Cubs’ owners had neglected to fly Sianis to the game.
“They didn’t fly my dad out to San Diego for the following games against the Padres and the Cubs lost, ending their winning season,” said Bill Sianis.
“So there is a small connection between my family, the restaurant and San Diego,” he added.
Given that the tavern does make the move to San Diego, will the long-standing Chicago Cubs curse of the billy goat make its way across the country as well?
Paul Skorochod, a Chicago native who has lived in San Diego for close to five years, said it could. “You know, San Diego is a town full of people who are not originally from San Diego. So half the local Padres fans probably know more about the curse than I do, and I’m from Chicago,” he said.
He said he doesn’t think Padres fans are superstitious enough to reject the tavern for its connection with the curse.
Skorochod said the three Billy Goat Tavern locations that opened in Chicago subsequent to the original, subterranean tavern on Michigan Avenue, could not compare with the original, with its walls plastered with blown-up bylines and articles from local newspapers to reflect its status as a local journalists’ hangout.
“It’s the kind of place you walk into and it’s packed all the time, and as you walk through the door, the cooks at the counter shout at you for your order. It can be intimidating,” he added. Skorochod estimated that he has been to the tavern at least 50 times.
It might be hard to bring it to San Diego, Skorochod said, “You’d have to import the staff too it would not be the same without people yelling at you in Greek accents.”
But, he added that Downtown San Diego and the area around the ballpark would be a perfect location for what he calls “a very urban-type place.”
Gattasso, of Burnham, agreed. “I think the aesthetics of the building, the history of the building and its proximity to the ballpark make it an ideal location for such a tenant,” she said.
If Sianis returns to scope out San Diego locations this summer, he would most likely be considering the 18,000-square-foot ground floor retail space at the TR Produce Building on J Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, according to Gattasso.
Burnham is the broker for the retail space, which is owned by San Diego-based Cruzan/Monroe. It is available for lease now, and Gattasso said Burnham has several interested tenants. Rents in the area on similar space typically range from $3 to $3.50 per square foot, not including taxes, insurance and maintenance expenses.
There may be some competition in the area.
Nearby, at Market Street and Park Boulevard, adjacent to the ballpark’s trolley stop, stands the recently opened, Slugger’s , a restaurant with a baseball theme that specializes in Chicago-style franks.
Peter Wolfe, owner of the Downtown restaurant, said it seats about 50 people in its 1,600-square-foot interior, thronged with some Chicago d & #233;cor and a big screen television for baseball viewing, and 40 people on its outside deck.
“Of course we are counting on baseball fans to come by, but we want everyone to stop in,” Wolfe said.
Aside from Slugger’s, there are no restaurants catering specifically to the ballpark crowd in close proximity, according to Wolfe.
But the addition of the Billy Goat Tavern in Downtown San Diego would enhance the baseball connection in that area, as well as the Chicago connection.
Sianis said that if the Billy Goat Tavern did make the move to San Diego, “we would bring some of our history and some of the Cubs memorabilia with us, but we’d probably add some local stuff as well.”
Asked if he could envision himself as a Padres fan, Sianis answered, “I’m a Chicago fan, but the Padres are something that if we moved out to San Diego, I could start rooting for.”