The revocation of two liquor licenses has officially ended the run of a throwback supper club that had operated for more than 40 years on Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills.
The Forge Club once was a members-only refuge for well-dressed patrons who favored steak Diane and fine Scotch from what was said to be one of the largest selections in the country. It was a mixture of elegance and rustic charm set far enough back in the trees from Milwaukee Avenue that you would miss it unless you knew it was there.
But there were no going-out-of-business specials, and indications are the restaurant at 634 S. Milwaukee Ave. closed to customers several weeks ago.
Earlier this fall, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission found the liquor license holder, Chestnut & Oaks LLC of Buffalo Grove, had failed to pay a $1,050 balance to the commission and had failed to pay more than $36,380 in sales and other taxes. It also found the company had failed to file and pay a balance of more than $15,742 in withholding tax, and ordered the license revoked.
Chestnut & Oaks was given the opportunity delay action by paying $15,000, but the deadline passed and the license was revoked Nov. 5.
Village officials followed suit after becoming aware of the circumstances. On Tuesday, the Vernon Hills liquor and license commission revoked the Forge's licenses for package and on-premise liquor sales.
"They don't exist anymore," Village Manager Mike Allison said.
Chris Gentes, executive director of the Lake County Municipal League, said she learned from business owner Henry Markwood shortly before a scheduled Nov. 14 banquet for 100 attendees that it wouldn't be worth opening for dinner without a liquor license. Both a state and local liquor license are required to operate legally.
"We scrambled to find another place," she said. "I was very lucky the event was a Thursday evening and not (on) a weekend."
Gentes said she has not received word on her $600 deposit.
Markwood could not be reached, and the murky end belied the success of a business that had become an anachronism in the restaurant industry.
The 300-seat club was founded in 1970 and modeled after the Anvil Club in East Dundee, according to Bill Pigati, who owned the business for 18 years until Markwood took over a few years ago. Rustic inside and out, it was built to resemble a blacksmith shop, he added.
Dues were about $300 to $400 per year, and new members had to be referred by existing members. Until the end, the menu featured table-side service of dishes such as Dover sole and old-school favorites like oysters Rockefeller.
"It was a great place. It was a way to entertain very well," Pigati said.
In the early days, one of the original owners "would swish through the dining room, dressed to the nines," recalled Pigati, whose family owns Del Rio restaurant in Highwood.
The club thrived with quality food, customer service and attention to detail as watchwords. But the economic crash took its toll. Membership was opened to the public for the first time in September 2009.
The restaurant landscape has changed dramatically, Pigati said. No new high-end restaurants are being built, and many have gone under. Highwood used to have 40 restaurants, for example, but now has 11.
Pigati owns the building and the 5 acres on which The Forge Club sits and has it listed for sale or lease.