LINCOLN PARK — The owners of the Wild Hare, a once iconic Wrigleyville reggae venue, hoped to continue the live music tradition when it opened in Lincoln Park in early 2012.
But they've been stymied by neighborhood opposition to keeping live music at the club.
So for now, it's simply a bar and restaurant. Without the live music that made the Wild Hare's Wrigleyville club famous, owners of the Lincoln Park location say the business is in real trouble.
The owners — which include two Ethiopian-born men who toured with Ziggy Marley, a Costa Rican voting member of the Recording Academy and a private equity investor — thought their new space along North Halsted Street would fit in with other live music venues such as Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S.
But neighbors thought otherwise.
During a series of meetings, both in Ald. Michele Smith's (43rd) office and at a community church, the owners claim they faced discrimination from neighbors.
Leaders of the the Wrightwood Neighbors Association said it was made clear the neighbors didn't want the venue in that spot, but the owners of the Wild Hare say it is an ideal location for them.
"There's a vast difference between patrons in a bar and a live venue with hundreds of people," said Leslie Oppenheimer, president of the neighbors association. "They knew going into the venture there was neighborhood opposition. It’s kind of a surprise to me that they are continuing to push."
Two women who lived within 250 feet of the new Wild Hare at 2610 N. Halsted St. petitioned their neighbors against the club and were successful in getting the required 50 percent of registered voters in that radius to force a hearing.
Shortly after the club was denied its license, one of the women, a high-profile real estate agent who gathered 82 of the 119 signatures petitioning against the Wild Hare, sold her condominium across the street from the Wild Hare. Reached by phone Tuesday, she said she has moved out of state and refused to comment.
The city denied Wild Hare's license on grounds that approval would affect traffic or parking in the surrounding area and the character of the neighborhood. The venue's hours of operation were cited.
"The community really objected having it at that location," Smith said. "That was broadcast wide and clear to the operators. The neighbors actually won. That doesn't happen very often."
The Wild Hare has been operating as a restaurant and bar while awaiting a Cook County Chancery Court date to argue the license was unfairly denied.
South Side Bishop Larry Trotter is looking to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step in.
The Wild Hare has contracted with a garage across the street from its location to provide free parking. Five other music clubs within two blocks have similar licenses.
Trotter hand-delivered a letter to Emanuel's desk earlier this month demanding an investigation, arguing the Wild Hare was targeted because of the club's history of attracting various ethnic groups to the venue.
"This is an entertainment district without any question," said owner William Glastris, 51. "All of them have live music, and the two closest to us have late-night licenses."
Since the Wild Hare opened its doors as a restaurant and bar in August, the owners claim a man got out of a car in front of the club and emptied a bag of garbage against the door. Empty bags of 40-ounce beer bottles have also been left hanging on the door.
"We tried to cover all our bases, but they consistently come up with new grounds to deny us," said owner Joel McCarthy, 43. "We always book people who stick to a positive, nonfighting music, but they keep bringing up gangster rap."
The new Wild Hare — with walls adorned with signed photos of the famed musicians who have played at the original location at 3530 N. Clark. — has a capacity of 260. But it's close to empty on most nights.
Fans who frequented the Wrigleyville location are bringing in groups to eat to try to keep the business afloat, but Glastris says the clock is ticking on the business.
"The earliest date they can get us [for court] is June. By June we are out of business," he said. "We've been paying rent, and paying rent, and paying rent and losing money."