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Congress Theater Attorney 'Confident' Liquor Decision Will Be Reversed

By Victoria Johnson | May 28, 2013 2:14pm | Updated on May 28, 2013 2:33pm
 The Congress Theater
The Congress Theater
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LOGAN SQUARE — A lawyer for the embattled owner of the Congress Theater said he is confident that a decision revoking the music venue's liquor license will be reversed.

The city’s liquor commissioner, Greg Steadman, yanked the venue's liquor license Friday afternoon after a series of hearings laid out five charges against the theater's owners, including failing to cooperate with police and creating a “public nuisance” with five drug-related violations in an eight-month period.

"It was a disappointing decision," Congress attorney Harlan Powell said. "There are penalties less draconian than license revocation."

Powell called the liquor commission's decision extreme and said he feels comfortable that the decision will be reversed. Powell also is confident the venue's public place of amusement license, which also was revoked, will be reinstated, he said.

Powell filed an appeal late Friday, and until there is an appeals hearing, which likely will take place in the next few weeks, shows will continue and the theater still will be allowed to serve liquor, Powell said.

In an email to DNAinfo.com Chicago, Congress owner Eddie Carranza said he is being punished for trying to defuse a fight outside a Chief Keef concert in 2012. Carranza said police on the scene quickly worked to break up the fight, but the city said that 911 should have been called from a landline.

"For example, if you're in the middle of a struggle, you're not supposed to call 911 from a cellphone for help, you have to stop defusing the situation, run inside the business [and] call 911 from landline for help," Carranza wrote. "Even if you wave down police for help, that doesn't count. It has to be a landline call for [a] business operator to be in compliance."

During hearings before the liquor commission, Powell and Carranza have maintained that reporting a fight over the phone is nonsensical when there is a large police presence already at the venue.

It "makes no sense in an emergency situation. Who cares where you call from? What's important is to get help," Carranza continued. "But in this case, since we didn't call from landline, even though there where calls made from cellphones to 911, those calls don't coun,t and now I'm losing my license over a law that has been around since there where no cellphones."

He also said drug violations linked to the theater stemmed from concertgoers.

"We caught and turned over five drug-related arrests to police in the period of eight months," he wrote. "We caught the offenders turned them over to police, and they charge us for those drug arrests."

Carranza said the ordinance discourages venues from reporting such crimes.

"The message bar and venue operators will get is: If you see illegal drug activity, and you catch offenders and turn them [in] to police, the operator can risk getting shut down or strike against their licenses for helping police catch illegal drugs," Carranza wrote.

First Ward Ald. Joe Moreno's spokesman Matt Bailey said the alderman — who got the ball rolling on the city's proceedings against the Congress — has "taken a step back" from the issue while still keeping an eye on it.

"We've been monitoring the process and going to the hearings," Bailey said. "Ultimately, the decision to revoke the license was made by experts in the city, and we stand by that. We've just been monitoring and informing the constituency."