Few times have I passed local pizzeria and hangout Gino’s North (unrelated to Chicago-based national chain Gino’s East) and seen a car parked in front as appropriate to this setting as this ’75 Chevy Impala Sport Coupe. I love my neighborhood. Tucked under an L station on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line, Gino’s North has been a fixture here since 1941. The current pizza crust’s originator, the lovely Peggy G., is in her 80’s and has been here for over thirty years. As would be expected by a place with history like this, I’ve found the pies to be unmatched by those of any other establishment in the ten-plus years I’ve lived in Chicago. To echo the license plate holder on the Chevy, “Bella Italia”, indeed.
I’m not ashamed to admit that the Impala Sport Coupe’s hardtop roofline had me completely confused until becoming a CC reader within the past year or so. The general rule I had learned with regard to the 1971 – ’76 Chevy B-body biggies was that the frontal styling of one year’s Caprice would predict that of the next year’s Impala. That much proved fairly consistent. What I hadn’t realized was that two separate rooflines were offered for a time for both coupes and sedans, with the pillared “Custom” coupe that arrived for ’74 being sold alongside the “Sport” hardtop. I had always incorrectly assumed that there was no more hardtop coupe after ’73.
A question for the ages: why on earth would someone pay an extra $51 (about $230 adjusted for 2015) for the pillared ’75 Custom over the the hardtop Sport two-door? In my opinion, it certainly wouldn’t be for aesthetics. (In ’75, the Sport went for $4,575, and the Custom went for $4,626.) I was in diapers at the time, so I have no personal frame of reference – for some of you who remember this era, did many car shoppers in 1975 put rollover protection near the top of their lists of buying criteria? Nothing I’ve read seems to substantiate this to any degree.
As for Gino’s North, it’s fun to come here and pretend it’s a day (or night) in the 1960’s or 70’s, order a twelve-inch, flat-crust Gino’s Special, and load up the jukebox with my favorite classic jazz, R&B and rock selections from the past. It’s really not that hard to imagine you’ve magically stepped back in time while in here, given the original wooden bar, statue (the whimsically-named “Snowdrop”), and much else that appears unchanged over not just years, but decades. This delightfully old-fashioned pizza parlor seems to attract a wide range of customers, from college kids from nearby Loyola University’s Northshore campus to folks that were the same age as the college kids when the featured Impala was new. The people watching is almost as good as the great food and classic cocktails.
As for the connection between this restaurant and the car (no, this wasn’t intended to be a Yelp review), mine is a simple premise, and it’s this: It can be comforting to be in a place and see familiar things that remind us of formulas that had worked so well for so long. Some of the basic pizza recipes here at Gino’s North have remained unchanged for at least the past thirty-five years. The restaurant had recently introduced some new, specialty pizzas, but the enduring popularity of the “Gino’s Special” proves that sometimes, you just can’t improve on a classic.
The full-size Chevrolet was an extremely popular car line in the United States for ’75, with model year sales exceeding 420,000 units for Impala, Caprice, Bel Air and wagons combined. The full-size Chevies offered RWD, V8 power, and body-on-frame construction in no less than five different bodystyles. For comparison, the redesigned, 2014 Impala sedan shifted just over 140,000 units for the calendar year (1/3 of the ’75 full-size total), with sales having tapered off substantially for 2015. While I think the new Impala is (finally, again) a fantastic-looking, competitive offering, there’s something about a classic Impala like the featured car that commands my attention with a little more authority. And let’s just be honest – the world and people’s tastes have changed much in the past forty years.
This Impala hasn’t been the only vintage car I’ve spotted in front of this friendly, neighborhood restaurant, and I doubt it will be the last. But I’d like to think this Impala’s owner came in for a ten-inch pie, sat down comfortably in one of the red, vinyl banquettes, and enjoyed his or her meal with Cal Tjader, Al Green or Steely Dan playing softly from the jukebox before returning to the comfort and splendor of this silver beauty. If he or she was fortunate, they also had a to-go bag sitting on the passenger’s side of the front bench seat when they drove away.
All photos as taken by the author in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
- From Jason Shafer: Curbside Classic: 1975 Chevrolet Bel-Air Wagon – Not The Last Of The Mohicians, But Darn Close
- From Dave Skinner: CC Classic: 1974 Impala Custom Coupe- Colonnade?