MORGAN PARK — Servers shouldn't have to worry about carding anyone in the dining room at Smith Village.
The retirement community at 2320 W. 113th Place in Morgan Park was awarded a liquor license on Monday. Soon, the 330 residents will be able to order beer and wine with meals, according to Kevin McGee, chief executive officer of Smith Senior Living.
This is a rare exception to a rule that dates back to Prohibition. While bars and restaurants line Western Avenue, the sale of alcohol in the 19th Ward has long been restricted to businesses on the west side of the street, according to a source within the office of Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th).
A bit of maneuvering was required to make an exception for Smith Village, including changing political boundaries. Previously, Smith Village was in the 14th Precinct of the 19th Ward — on the "dry" side of Western Avenue.
Going from "dry" to "wet" typically requires a majority vote from a particular precinct during a general election. This is most often done by way of referendum, and it's very difficult to achieve, the source said.
The last attempt was in 2009 when the commercial district in the area around 103rd Street and Longwood Drive attempted to change its status and failed.
The only other way to go from "dry" to "wet" is by way of petition. This requires 2/3 of registered voters of a particular precinct to sign on. This is an even more daunting task, as finding and persuading 66 percent of voters in a particular area requires nothing short of a Herculean effort.
In the case of Smith Village, O'Shea, who's also the 19th Ward Democratic Committeeman, petitioned the Chicago Board of Elections to change boundaries for the retirement home. Smith Village was moved from the 14th Precinct on the "dry" side of Western Avenue to the 7th Precinct on the "wet" side last summer.
From there, Smith Village simply needed 2/3 of its residents to sign a petition blessing the sale of alcohol — since the rest of the 7th Precinct was already on the "wet" side of the street. Once the petition was approved, Smith Village became the only business in the 19th Ward with a liquor license on the east side of Western Avenue.
The only fallout from the change in precinct was that Smith Village residents were asked to walk across the street to vote in the Kennedy Park field house. Previously, the seniors were able to vote in-house.
With the liquor license secured, O'Shea is expected to return Smith Village to the 14th Precinct. The ability to sell alcohol will be grandfathered in, and residents will no longer be asked to scurry across four lanes of traffic on Western Avenue every Election Day.
When asked why O'Shea jumped through so many hoops for the retirement home, the source said the dining area at Smith Village is unlike any other restaurant or bar. "Really, this is their home. And there's no reason you shouldn't be allowed to have a beer in your own home," the source said.
Indeed, the dining area at Smith Village is unique. First, it's not open to the public. Residents eat there, though they are welcome to invite family and friends.
Residents also buy meals with points — not cash. Each resident is awarded about 800 points each month.
The liquor license will now allow diners to also buy wine and beer with these same points. The points don't carry over from month to month. And if a resident runs out of points before the end of the month, they are billed for any overages.
"The goal is to come out even at the end of every month," said Elaine Spencer, a Smith Village resident since December 2007.
Residents of Smith Village asked administrators to consider adding alcohol sales after touring Smith Crossing in Orland Park. The southwest suburban sister campus added an on-site pub when it was expanded in 2012.
Not to be outdone, Chicago residents wanted something similar. While no pub is planned for Smith Village, a small space may be carved out near the dining area where residents could enjoy a drink while waiting for a table during the dinner rush, McGee said.
And besides, residents have always been able to bring their own alcohol to the dining area, said Paul Slosar, who's lived Smith Village since December 2007.
"It's called 'brown bagging it.' But that doesn't look too classy, and we run a classy joint," Slosar said.
McGee expects to begin serving alcohol in the dining room in July. He envisions alcohol to be available daily from 4-7 p.m.
Smith Village has long hosted happy hours, Super Bowl parties and other events that include alcohol. These events are either BYOB or Smith Village provides the beverages. None of that is expected to change with the addition of the liquor license, McGee said.
Dr. Phil Carlin, a resident of Smith Village since November 2007, wanted to assure neighbors that rowdy booze parties shouldn't be expected now that the liquor license has been secured. For proof, he offered a bit of insight into the retirement community's annual New Year's Eve party.
"New Year's Eve ends at 11," Carlin said.
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