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February 18, 2008

Art Institute ‘hawks’ its wares with Johnny’s Grill

Originally published at the Windy Citizen, Feb. 18, 2008

Had Edward Hopper lived in Chicago in the early 1940’s, there could be little doubt that Logan Square’s Johnny’s Grill would have been the inspiration for his painting “Nighthawks.” At least that’s the mood the Art Institute of Chicago is hoping to convey with its ad campaign for the Edward Hopper exhibit, opening at the Art Institute on Saturday, February 16.

The ad, prominently featured on CTA platforms across the city, features the diners from the famous Nighthawks, not in an unnamed eatery beneath a Phillies cigar ad, but sitting on stools within Johnny’s Grill.

Erin Hogan, the director of public affairs at the Art Institute said she thought the Logan Square eatery fit the mood best. “We wanted to make it all about Chicago, all about the famous painting.”

Stepping into Johnny’s Grill, it is not hard to see why Hogan felt the mood fit. The actual grill sits less than a foot behind the counter, and is constantly sizzling with eggs, bacon and hash browns while regulars flit in and out of the front door. Those regulars and the chef, Emiliano, could easily be the four people in the Hopper painting, two generations later.

In a twist of irony, hanging over the corner of the grill is a spoof of the original “Nighthawks” painting: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Gottfried Helnwein. The Helnwein print replaces the Hopper characters with Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis Presley.

According to Hogan, the Art Institute’s marketing team scoured the city for the perfect location to promote the exhibit. Instead of some Loop location, it was Johnny’s Grill that fit the bill.

Nick Kalliantasis, an owner of Johnny’s Grill, said that a representative from the Art Institute came into the restaurant around Christmas and asked if he wanted to be involved in the campaign.

After he agreed, a photographer came to frame the picture that would surround the painting. Johnny’s Grill closed for a few hours and both Kalliantasis and the photographer took down all of the holiday decorations for the shoot.

The campaign launched Thursday and Hogan thinks the Nighthawks update has been a success so far. “People love the ad,” she said. “That’s the whole point of a good ad – to have people talking about it.”

Elizabeth Manos, a waitress at Johnny’s Grill since 1998, said they have been receiving “lots of calls” since the ad started running in the papers. She estimated about 40 calls have come in asking where the diner is located.

Almost on cue, the phone rang and Manos was off to answer it. “2545 N. Kedzie Ave.,” she said, “in Logan Square.”

The exhibit featuring Edward Hopper’s work runs from Saturday, February 16, to May 10 at the Art Institute of Chicago. During the month of February, general admission at the museum is free and the special exhibit costs $10.

The ticket will allow admission to the Hopper show and another special exhibit, Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light. Starting in March, ticket prices will increase to $20.

Johnny’s Grill is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., in the heart of Logan Square.

Kalliantasis said he is thinks that the free publicity will be very good for business. “All my customers are pretty excited,” he said.

On Friday, the regulars spent the morning handing the advertisement around. Laughter and smiles were exchanged, along with comments of “We’re famous.”

Posted by bmiraski at 2:28 PM