LINCOLN SQUARE — Fanta Sea, 2122 W. Lawrence Ave., will no longer operate as a restaurant, as the owner claimed, or an illegal nightclub, as neighbors asserted.
Residents were informed Wednesday via an email from Jim Poole, Ald. Ameya Pawar's (47th) chief of staff, that Mario Morales had surrendered his retail food and incidental liquor license for the business.
In short, Fanta Sea is closed.
"They're not admitting anything, they're just walking away," Pawar said. "They got the message."
Patty Wetli joins DNAinfo Radio to talk about the closing of the Fanta Sea:
The alderman initiated public nuisance proceedings against Fanta Sea earlier this year after numerous complaints from neighbors about the business. Their main point of contention: That Fanta Sea was not primarily a food establishment, as its liquor license required, but rather a nightclub.
Morales appeared twice before the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, where he was told he needed to take specific steps in order to remain in good standing with the city.
At the most recent community hearing held in April, Morales was asked to return May 22 with a year's worth of receipts showing Fanta Sea's food purchases and sales.
"My guess is that those books don't exist," Pawar said.
Morales did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Having now successfully shut down two "fly-by-night" operators — Fanta Sea and the former Centro on Ashland Avenue — Pawar said owners of similar enterprises have been put on notice: "Don't come into our ward."
He intends to move forward with his plan to change the Fanta Sea property's zoning to residential, requiring any future business proposed for that address to get aldermanic approval.
"It's not about setting a precedent in the ward," Pawar said. "It's about the building owner allowing really terrible operators time and time again."
The alderman has also begun talks with representatives from the hospitality industry regarding the licensing of nightclub promoters.
Currently unregulated, promoters "don't pay taxes, they have no liability. They come in and do whatever they want," Pawar said.
Legislation would have to be crafted "in a way that makes sense," he said.
The goal would be to close the loophole exploited by Fanta Sea and others — using an incidental license as cover for running a club — while not penalizing legitimate promoters who are "doing things right," Pawar said. "We don't want to overregulate ... we want to address this one very specific issue."