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Congress Theater Owner Faces Second Liquor Commission Hearing

 The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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DNAinfo/Victoria Johnson

CHICAGO — Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza appeared at City Hall Tuesday morning for the venue's second disciplinary hearing in front of the Liquor Control Commission.

The hearing, originally scheduled for March 5, was postponed to allow a new lawyer for Carranza, Harlan Powell, to get acquainted with the case.

Carranza and the venue's management face charges stemming from several incidents in April and May, including an assault on a concertgoer by a security guard and drug dealing by a theater employee, according to charging documents.

Though they are not criminal charges, the commission could rule that the theater's liquor license be revoked.

The first hearing brought testimony from three witnesses, including the patron who said he'd been roughed up by Congress security, and Tuesday's hearing saw testimony from another witness for the city, Sgt. Joe Giambrone of the Shakespeare District.

Giambrone testified about two incidents, a fight after a show on April 13 and reports of underage drinking during a May 5 performance by Rusko, an English dubstep producer and DJ.

Giambrone said a nurse from Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center called 911 early May 6 to report a group of "overintoxicated" underage patrons bought to the hospital in a private ambulance.

"The [nurse] wondered where these patrons were coming from, with this level of intoxication," Giambrone said.

Theater management was not accused of selling alcohol to minors, but instead of failing to cooperate with police who came to inquire about the drunken concertgoers.

In a strange twist to the Congress Theater saga, Powell said he wanted to get testimony from none other than Barbara Gressel, the assistant city commissioner conducting the Congress Theater's public nuisance hearings.

Powell argued that Gressel's directions on how Congress workers should report crimes ran in opposition to the city's charges.

Because Gressel was on vacation, the hearing was rescheduled until April 30, when Powell said he also intends to call another witness for the Congress.

Carranza has repeatedly acknowledged the theater needs improving and emphasized he is working toward that end.

In an interview after the hearing, Carranza did not wish to comment on the hearing but said he was still working to improve the venue inside and out.

"We're working on different projects, working on the violations issues, cosmetics, beautification and finishing the storefronts we're trying to open," he said.

Carranza announced last month plans to restore the venue to a 1920s feel, but lamented difficulties getting new licenses while proceedings with the city continue.

"Finishing the projects and finishing the storefronts is kind of the easy part, the licensing is what's causing the delay," he said.

Meanwhile, police have been ticketing cars unlawfully parked at the CVS at 2053 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Carranza said he is working to obtain proper licensing to make use of the lot, formerly used by the nearby VLive club.

"We know how important it is to the community because that's 300 cars that are parking somewhere and maybe even in residential areas," he said.

The Congress' next hearing before the Liquor Control Commission will be at 9:30 a.m. April 30.

The next public nuisance community meeting will be at 10 a.m. May 7.