Ballydoyle owner set to begin Empire in Naperville

Phil Cullen, the owner of Ballydoyle Irish Pub and Restaurant in downtown Downers Grove, offers an Irish toast to a packed house. | Danielle Gardner/Staff Photographer/Naperville Sun

Predictions that the old Rosebud space in downtown Naperville would come back to life in time for last year’s holiday season wound up about a year off.

Phil Cullen said this week that he is all but good to go on overhauling the vintage space southeast of Chicago Avenue and Main Street that has sat vacant since a fire shuttered Rosebud, which has since moved east one block, nearly four years ago. Cullen plans to create Empire by Ballydoyle, a restaurant and entertainment venue that will be his fourth local establishment. Cullen currently runs Ballydoyle locations in Aurora, Downers Grove and Bloomingdale.

“All is going well. Lots of people are asking about Empire,” Cullen said in an email Monday.

The city so far has been “very accommodating,” he added, reporting that he’ll be applying for his building permits this week and plans to begin construction soon. He aims to be open for business in November or December.

With some high-tech features incorporated into the design, including a three-season outdoor seating area overlooking the West Branch of the DuPage River, the project will entail some heavy lifting.

“There is a lot of steel going into the building to re-support it and allow us to do the retractable roof system,” Cullen said.

The City Council took a hard look at the proposal before expanding the number of late-night liquor licenses available to downtown restaurants in May 2013, a change Cullen said he needed in order to make the business viable. Some voiced reluctance to add another of the special class of permit, which allows restaurant owners to continue serving alcohol until 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends without keeping their kitchens open. Cullen emphasized that employees at his all-ages establishment, intended to appeal especially to patrons ages 30 to 55, would be vigilant about ensuring no underage drinking takes place either during meal times or late in the evening, when Empire is planned to operate as a bar and live music venue.

Officials were particularly concerned about the new night spot adding too much to the workload for Naperville police. Law enforcement already had been beefed up late on weekend nights to counter an increase in fights, thefts and other crimes — including two stabbings, one of which claimed the life of a popular elementary school teacher — that tainted the bar scene during 2011 and early 2012. The incidence of those crimes had dropped sharply after the police presence was expanded in the bar area.

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