The Chicago bar community lost the crackling personality of Marie Wuczynski in 2011, and Friday, it could lose her namesake bar Marie's Riptide Lounge, as well.
Tina Congenie, who currently runs the Bucktown dive spotlighted by Conan O'Brien and frequented by several generations of Chicagoans, revealed Tuesday the bar was in danger of closing as early as Jan. 25 due to a probate-related issue.
Bartenders and longtime patrons have scrambled to put together a Thursday fundraiser in hopes of saving the beloved bar. The story behind the settlement, however, is a tangled one that even now remains murky.
"I'm going to court tomorrow at 10 a.m., probate court," Congenie told HuffPost Chicago on Thursday. "I need to have $120,000. I guess with interest it's almost $140,000."
Congenie, who ran the bar alongside owner Wuczynski for years, said Wuczynski willed the business and property to her; she described the late bar owner as "her second mom" and her biological mother's "best friend."
After Wuczynski's death, her son, whom Congenie described as "estranged," came to contest the probate ruling on his mother's estate.
Congenie did not clarify the exact relationship the son had with Wuczynski, telling Chicagoist the man was "a long lost son of Wuczynski’s" who resurfaced to contest the will. After the will went into probate, Congenie said she settled for $120,000 which she now must pay by Friday, with interest.
Congenie claims Wuczynski didn't have her estranged son in the will and said Wuczynski "made it clear to a whole lot of people—maybe 15 of us" that the bar was not to be left to her son.
Declining to divulge specifics, Congenie said she was "just trying to be a nice person" in negotiations with Wuczynski's son and in doing so, may have compromised her stake in the bar.
"No matter what, I felt in my heart he's still [Marie's] family," Congenie said.
Cook County Probate Court records dated from Wuczynski's death to Congenie's present predicament show a snarl of motions, removals and amendments, including a motion to amend heirship and a property appraisals.
After Congenie said a supposed fifty-fifty partnership between her and a "longtime patron" of the bar fell through, the Thursday fundraiser is the bar's last chance — though Congenie didn't sound hopeful.
"I've been here since 1961," said Congenie. "I was back in my playpen."
Bartenders John Kembler and Marcus McGlory are organizing the fundraising event which runs from noon Thursday until close. Congenie is hoping that raising even 10 percent of the money owed will be enough to stall the closing.
The fundraiser to save Marie's Riptide Lounge, 1745 W. Armitage Ave., runs Thursday from noon until close.