Rosemont no longer just conventions and concerts

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MB Financial Park in Rosemont. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune / August 9, 2012)

MB Financial Park is like a mall of entertainment. All the businesses are chains or related to chains or chains-in-waiting. It's Disneyfied, to be sure, but the establishments have good tap beer, kitchens with at least a little ambition and decks and patios that open to the park. You'd have to be a sourpuss to not find a way to enjoy yourself.

At Adobe Gila's, "home of the 64-ounce margarita," plastic bead necklaces on the table suggest, incongruously, Mardi Gras. On the July night that Zanies opened, the place, with sister outposts in Ohio and Florida, was positively buzzing.

Ryan Williams, 32, a retail manager from Park Ridge, steps onto the patio to check out the park and get a break from the clamor inside.

"I'm kind of wrapping my head around" the place, he says.

Still, he says he can easily imagine spending a whole evening here, especially with the draw of the bowling alley and Muvico.

"I couldn't imagine going to another movie theater," Williams says, citing the comfort and food and drink options there. (The theaters draw "nearly 1 million people" annually, Stephens says.)

The area is an easy walk from the Rosemont stop on the Blue Line or the hotels and convention center that fill in much of the land along River Road, south of Interstate Highway 90.

But MB Financial can't live on hotel patrons and conventioneers alone. It needs area residents like Williams to come and park and play if it's going to succeed. And it's not as if the suburbs are a chain-restaurant desert.

"If you live in Park Ridge, you've got a lot going on there," Williams says.

The park sits between Balmoral Avenue to the south, where Akoo Theatre is, and Bryn Mawr on the north, where the Muvico building is, and which is connected by a walkway between the bowling alley and Five Roses Irish pub.

On the east side is an 3,000-vehicle parking garage owned by the village. (Parking is free with validation, at least for now.) On its west side is the hum of traffic from Interstate Highway 294, a view and noise that's being partially blocked out by the 20,000-square-foot Hofbrauhaus, a beer hall, restaurant and beer garden patterned after the 400-year-old original in Munich that when completed will nearly enclose the green space.

Scheduled to open sooner than that are a new edition of the chain My Big Fat Greek Restaurant and, perhaps most impactfully, a Toby Keith's I (Heart) This Bar & Grill, named after a hit single by the country superstar.

That place, scheduled for a "soft opening" this month, will program live music for up to 2,000 people at a time. There's a gigantic guitar-shaped bar, and an oversize segment of a red Solo cup, the name of another Keith hit, will adorn a wall.

The menu includes a fried bologna sandwich, and not french fries but "Toby's Freedom Fries," a nod to Keith's Fox News politics.

Other potential draws that Mayor Stephens points to: an outlet mall south of Balmoral that should be open next summer and a planned Big Ten headquarters building.

"The whole mix here is really terrific," says Frank Stryjewski, CFO of Kings Lanes, which started in Boston and also runs the Five Roses pub.

He sees the area as "a community center for, really, the suburbs of Chicago, but also for visitors."

While the long waits for bowling lanes at the Boston-area Kings haven't yet materialized in Rosemont, Stryjewski says he is confident they will as people learn of the area and its options.

Bowling, he says, "is a sport that's reinventing itself." And if for no other reason than that, it's a pretty good fit for the village of Rosemont, destination-in-waiting. Twitter @stevenkjohnson

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