Top of the Morning, May 18, 2014

It's a question he gets more than "What's today's special?"

" 'When are we opening?' " Mike Cochran said. "I hear it every day."

Cochran is co-owner of the wildly popular Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Urbana. On Friday, we visited at the site of what will be a second Black Dog, inside a former railroad freight station in downtown Champaign.

Of course my first question was: "When are you opening?"

"I'm ballparking here, but we'd like to be open by the middle of February," Cochran said.

Super Bowl? Valentine's Day? Presidents Day?

Why then?

"We opened the first Black Dog on Feb. 18, 2009," Cochran said. "That's worked well for us. Let's do it again."

Today, Black Dog II doesn't look much like a restaurant. Work on the roof continues, but renovation inside the narrow building won't begin until a contractor is selected. Cochran said it will be a six-month process to ready a building that city planner T.J. Blakeman told us dates to about 1899.

"The biggest challenge is the time it's taking to get organized," Cochran said. "It'd be easier if there wasn't a building here."

There's been a line outside Black Dog seemingly since Day 1. During graduation week at the UI, it's been extra long.

"This week has been like a whole week of Friday nights," Cochran said. "I see people walking away (because of the wait); we've been turning away business. Hopefully this helps."

Additional seating and a much bigger kitchen aren't the only perks of the Champaign location.

Parking (40-50 daytime spaces, more at night) is a plus. "Right ouside our front door," Cochran said. "That's unique in downtown Champaign. That was a tipping point."

The nightlife doesn't hurt, either. Cochran said Black Dog II might stay open past 11 p.m. on weekends to accommodate the late-night downtown crowd.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (2):People, Restaurants

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