Just as we discover the Rainforest Cafe, it goes away forever

Farewell, tree frog
Farewell, tree frog
Photo: Robert Alexander (Getty Images)

The Rainforest Cafe in Chicago has closed its doors forever, a year before its lease was set to expire, Block Club Chicago reports. Times are tough, and, as we observed with our very own keen reportorial eyes in January, the Rainforest Cafe was not doing very well, even allowing that our visit happened midweek midwinter. And that was before coronavirus restrictions killed Chicago tourism. “It’s an iconic restaurant that’s served families well,” the property owner, Sean Conlon, said, “but there was simply no business.” (Conlon, Block Club notes, is also the star of the CNBC show The Deed: Chicago.)

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The Rainforest Cafe shut down completely in March and it never reopened again, even for takeout or delivery. Which I guess makes a certain kind of sense: if a restaurant’s major attraction is an animatronic gorilla and frequent fake thunderstorms and an extensive gift shop, why would people want to eat mediocre food at home?

Anyway, don’t worry about the gorilla. There’s a clause in the rental contract that stipulates that, should the restaurant close, the gorilla would become Conlon’s personal property. “Looking over the contract, my lawyer told me it’s the first time he’s encountered a gorilla clause,” Conlon said. No provisions, however, were made for the giant tree frog that crouched over the top of the building. Maybe it will be attached to the high-rise apartment building that is almost certain to go up in the two-story restaurant’s place? That’s the sort of thing that developers would call “iconic” and charge a few thousand dollars extra for.

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The Rainforest Cafe was the last of a group of family-friendly theme restaurants that were clustered around that particular block in Chicago’s River North neighborhood; the others included Planet Hollywood, the fake ’50s diner Ed Debevic’s, and the Rock and Roll McDonald’s. Does that mean this is the end of this particular restaurant as well? Where will parents take their kids when they’re on vacation in a place that doesn’t have “Disney” in its name?

At least we’ll have our light-up drink cups to remember the Rainforest Cafe by. Oh, wait, they’re in the office...

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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