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Rowdy Michigan Fans at Diag Bar Upset Neighbors, Force Change

By Serena Dai | November 14, 2013 6:39am | Updated on November 14, 2013 8:35am

LAKEVIEW — "With shouts of vict'ry crying," goes the famous University of Michigan fight song.

But some Lakeview neighbors just wish Wolverine fans would shut up, already.

At a neighborhood meeting this week, residents complained about noise, trash and vandalism they say is connected to the Diag Bar & Grill at 2856 N. Southport Ave, a favorite watering hole for Michigan fans.

The bar's owners, who attended the meeting, said they are trying to be good neighbors and vowed to make changes, including conducting noise checks and having security guards patrol more of the area around the bar.

While the Diag bar is named after a train line that once ran through Lakeview, the bar notes on its website that Diag also is "widely known as the middle of Central Campus at the University of Michigan," calling the school "our beloved alumni partner."

The bar has a brass "M" on its patio; the Diag in Ann Arbor also has a brass "M" embedded at its crossroads. On game days, Diag offers $4 22-ounce Michigan stadium cups and $5 Michigan Blue shots.

Southport Avenue and George Street has been the site of other bars over the years, but it wasn't until it became Diag last year — and started attracting Michigan fans — that the trouble started, residents said at a South Lakeview Neighbors meeting Tuesday.

Problems with Diag and its maize-and-blue-garbed fans have been raised before: At a previous meeting this year, residents complained of glass bottles, cigarette butts and plastic "Michigan" cups scattered in yards, as well as overfilled Dumpsters and noise late into the night.

The Chicago Department of Business Affairs paid a visit and found the bar was in violation of several licenses, including retail food, outdoor patio and sound in a beer garden license.

Diag responded by posting "respect your neighbors" signs inside the bar, removing patio speakers, hiring employees for clean-up and security and increasing trash pickup, said Erik Baylis and Ryan Marks, partners in the Big Onion Tavern Group, which owns Diag.

Conditions have improved since the changes, neighbors said, but several problems still exist.

Two residents complained Tuesday that noisy patrons of Diag are running down George Street and vandalizing yards — including breaking pumpkins, tearing down Halloween decorations, cutting Christmas lights and pulling out sod.

Trolleys park in front of homes, and their riders loudly enter the bar. Bargoers block the sidewalk to play "bags," a popular Midwest college game also known as Cornhole where bags are tossed onto a raised platform.

The noise levels from music, chattering bar attendees and a bingo night announcer are still "excessive," even when the bar's windows are closed, neighbors said.

"Literally our bedroom vibrates with 'boom da da boom da da boom'," said Bob Blitstein, who lives across the street from Diag.

Though nobody is allowed to leave the bar with booze, many people are now "pre-loading" before they arrive and tend to leave their empty cans and bottles in the neighborhood, said Elizabeth Gomez, a staff member with Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Bar owners Marks and Baylis attended the meeting and vowed to solve the problem.

They ran the bar as Jack's for two and a half years before transforming it into Diag, and the newfound success has brought on "some issues," Marks admitted.

"We're still the same law-abiding people who owned Jack's," Marks said. "We've struggled in a different battle."

The two security guards on weekends and one on weekdays will start patrolling further on George Street, rather than just halfway down the street, the owners said. Garbage pickup will also be extended down the street.

Employees will start wearing orange vests so that neighbors can identify them as Diag workers, the owners added.

Marks and Baylis will do noise tests to check when the volume becomes too much, and they'll follow up with their audio company to see if there is a way to keep volumes low, Marks said.

And though the tavern group cannot control when the trolleys come, bar managers will "make it crystal clear" to any trolleys that rules must be followed, Marks said.

Big Onion has six bars across the city, including Derby, 1224 W. Webster Ave. in Lincoln Park, and Fatpour Tapworks, 2005 W Division St., in Wicker Park, and have experience with residential neighborhood issues, the owners said.

"We wouldn't be here if we didn't care," Marks said. "We want to be good neighbors."

South Lakeview Neighbors President Perry Castrovillari noted that the owners attended the meeting as a courtesy, not as a requirement.

Gomez said that steps could be taken with the city to force the bar to be better neighbors but that it would be a long, arduous process. Collaborating with the bar owners now is an opportunity to make good relations happen faster, she said.

Gomez, Marks and Baylis will return to South Lakeview Neighbors in February to follow up on whether there have been improvements. Until then, neighbors are welcome to email or call the bar with issues, they said.

The influx of people with Michigan ties into Chicago is significant, with the North Side earning the nickname "Michago" among the ex-pats, according to writer and Michigan native Edward McClelland.

In his new book "Nothin' But Blue Skies," McClelland says that half of Michigan State University's grads in 2010 left Michigan, with most heading for Chicago.

For young Michiganders, moving to Chicago is "the accepted endpoint of one's educational progression: grade school, middle school, high school, college, Chicago," writes McClelland.