LINCOLN SQUARE — What kind of restaurant brings in a mechanical bull as entertainment for patrons?
That's what neighbors who live near Fanta Sea Lounge, 2122 W. Lawrence Ave., want to know.
The mechanical bull is just the latest example residents presented to area police and 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar's office as evidence that Fanta Sea is in violation of its incidental liquor license, which allows for alcohol consumption as secondary to an establishment's primary line of business — in Fanta Sea's case, running a restaurant.
"We know they're not really selling food," neighbor Bob Farster said. "They have a food truck at their events. What restaurant has a food truck?"
Listen to Patty Wetli discuss the Fanta Sea Lounge and the complaints about it from neighbors:
Instead, neighbors assert, Fanta Sea is operating as an illegal nightclub in an otherwise largely residential area.
"It's not what's supposed to be there," Farster said.
At the community's March CAPS meeting, the list of complaints leveled against Fanta Sea included lewd acts on the sidewalk, public urination, blocked alleys, DJs and promoters advertising the place as a club, and loud music blaring well past the lounge's 2 a.m. closing time.
"I'm just sick of it. I'm done," neighbor Sanjay Choudrey said.
Pawar said his office has started public nuisance proceedings against Fanta Sea in an attempt to revoke its liquor license.
"I want to close Fanta Sea down now," said Pawar. "We're going to throw everything at them. We're going to ticket them as often as we can."
In fact, when Fanta Sea came under new ownership in 2011, which called for a reissuance of its liquor license, Pawar lodged an objection with the Liquor Control Commission.
The commission initially sided with Pawar and denied the license, a decision based in part on testimony from then-Foster Police District Cmdr. Lucy Moy-Bartosik.
According to an appeals document, Fanta Sea opened in October 2009 and Moy-Bartosik started getting complaints at beat meetings around November or December of 2009 "that people were highly intoxicated on the streets. There were fights, large amounts of garbage and beer bottles up and down the alley and the side streets."
Paying a personal visit to the business, Moy-Bartosik discovered "no food in the refrigerator whatsoever," although the bar was open and a DJ was set up in the rear of the lounge. Additionally, she noted four arrests for prostitution outside the business in 2010 and said repeated calls for police to the address were a drain on the district's manpower.
The License Appeal Commission ultimately determined "the mere fear that a licensee ... may operate a nightclub" was "not sufficient" grounds to deny Fanta Sea's new operators an incidental license.
Pawar met with Mario Morales, who took over as owner of Fanta Sea (also known as Fantasea) in 2011, and recalled, "When these guys came in, their story kept changing. Given the location's history, it didn't sound good. They said they'd renovate the space, and they didn't do anything."
Morales attended the March CAPS meeting to respond to neighbors' complaints, required of him by the city's department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection as part of the public nuisance process.
Regarding accusations that he isn't running a restaurant, Morales said, "All my customers love my food."
But when pressed by Officer Robert Berndt, he conceded that the food was indeed provided by a "third party."
He also said that he's often not on site to supervise the staff or activity at Fanta Sea.
"Sometimes I'm there, sometimes I'm at my other business," said Morales, who also owns Allegra Restaurant, not known for any license violations.
Berndt told Morales it was his responsibility to ensure the club closes at 2 a.m. as required.
"You need to take it upon yourself," he said.
Having been called before Business Affairs and Consumer Protection officials once, Morales was given a list of steps required to gain good standing within the community, including presenting a menu for review, installing security cameras and sending employees to training.
"We're gonna work it out," Morales said. "We're gonna make everyone happy."
A second city hearing on Fanta Sea is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 24 in Room 805 of City Hall. In the meantime, police have called in the vice enforcement unit for help.
"This is just a continuing process," said Jim Poole, chief of staff for Pawar, who encouraged community members to keep up the 911 calls.
"The concern is, come spring or summer" issues will only become compounded, he said.
For neighbors like Choudrey, the wheels of justice aren't turning fast enough.
"The bureaucracy is so slow," he said. "We need to speed up the process."