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Tavern takes over chess park but isn’t throwing away all of the pieces of the past

Tavern takes over chess park but isn’t throwing away all of the pieces of the past
Under a five-year encroachment agreement with the city, a tavern is taking over a public Chess Park located off of Brand Boulevard to use for outdoor seating. (Roger Wilson / Glendale News-Press)

A bar and restaurant is taking over a former public chess park located in an alley off Brand Boulevard, potentially breathing new life into the space, while maintaining the theme, according to the developers.

Chess Park Tavern, tentatively set to open in March, required the removal of the city-built chess park’s 16 concrete, chessboard-topped tables to make way for a wooden deck that will be used for outside seating and live entertainment.

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“It’s a new concept, a new design, to reactivate that area,” city spokesman Dan Bell said. “Downtown Glendale is going to be hopping.”

Pedestrians will still be able to use the alley as a walkway between the Orange Street Parking Garage and Brand, Bell said.

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It’s an arrangement made possible by a five-year encroachment agreement between the city and the restaurant developers, including Ararat “Aro” Agakhanyan.

No money exchanged hands for the city staff-helmed deal that requires the developers to redesign and maintain the area, including providing landscaping and keeping it clear of trash, Bell said.

When it opened in 2004, the chess park was bustling with players, who took part in periodic tournaments, said tavern spokesman Arthur Mkrtchyan, adding that in the intervening years activity in the space dropped off.

The hope is that Chess Park Tavern, along with a Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizzeria set to open next door, will energize the 200 block of North Brand Boulevard in downtown Glendale.

It’s part of Glendale’s plan to become an “18-hour city,” offering attractive post-work day destinations, Bell said.

Both the tavern and pizzeria will be housed in the 5,000-square-foot space previously occupied by the Brand Bookshop, which shuttered in 2014 after 30 years of operation.

The two businesses will be separated by a frosted window, according to Mkrtchyan.

Agakhanyan, chief executive of the Burbank-founded pizzeria chain, is spearheading its relocation from Broadway to a bigger space on Brand as a developer and consultant, Mkrtchyan said.

While the chess tables are gone, Mkrtchyan said the tavern plans to host chess nights once or twice a month to keep the “chess vibes” going.

The monthly events could include tournaments, with the tavern providing boards and chess pieces to players, Mkrtchyan said.

The tavern’s cups will have chess-piece handles and the design team is working on producing chess-piece lights to replace the five lights that were removed for the deck’s construction, driving home the recurring aesthetic, Mkrtchyan said.

“This type of a bar does not exist within a 20-mile radius,” Mkrtchyan said, comparing the atmosphere to the speakeasy-themed the Normandie Club in Koreatown and the Varnish in downtown Los Angeles, “but on a much larger scale.”

Set to seat about 250 customers, Chess Park Tavern will feature craft beer and cocktails, as well as a full menu, with steak, fish and a variety of small bites, Mkrtchyan said.

Chess Park Tavern is building a wooden deck where the city's Chess Park once existed.
Chess Park Tavern is building a wooden deck where the city's Chess Park once existed. (Roger Wilson / Glendale News-Press)
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