ROGERS PARK — The Sulejmani family, which owns Uptown's Reservoir and Portage Park's Hops and Barley, unveiled plans Wednesday night for its newest venture on a section of Devon Avenue that's been "dry" for more than 100 years.
Family patriarch Frank Sulejmani, along with sons Marcus and Robert, pitched the plan for Lakewood Bistro at 1248-60 W. Devon Ave., a building the Sulejmanis own.
"We want to be part of the neighborhood," Marcus Sulejmani said to a large group of neighbors in the basement of St. Ignatius Church. "If we’re blessed with your support, you’re going to love us as neighbors."
But before opening, the Sulejmanis have a steep hill to climb to remove a series of liquor prohibitions on the block.
The oldest, a restrictive covenant tied to the property, dates to 1913, said Dean Maragos, the family's attorney. Maragos said he and his clients were in the process of having it removed from the books.
Even still, the precinct where the restaurant would be located was voted dry by residents in 1936 under state law.
There are two avenues in which to overturn the ban.
• The first option would be for 25 percent of registered voters within the city's 17th precinct to sign a petition to hold a referendum. If successful, the majority of people voting in the election would have to approve of lifting the ban.
According to the Chicago Board of Elections, the petition must be submitted within 90 days of an election. For the general election on Nov. 4, the deadline for filing a petition is Aug. 6.
The precinct includes a few blocks roughly bordered by Sheridan Road and Lakewood, Devon and Arthur avenues and includes about 500 registered voters.
• The second option is complicated by how the boundaries of the area's precinct have changed over the years. Under this option, two-thirds of the registered voters who live east of Lakewood, west of Magnolia, south of Arthur and north of Devon avenues would need to sign a petition to remove the ban.
If the liquor ban is lifted by either of these options, the City Council would still have to vote to lift a city moratorium on liquor licenses approved under the watch of Ald. Pat O'Connor when his 40th Ward included that block of Devon.
Then, finally, Sulejmani would need to obtain an "incidental" liquor license, which requires that no more than 50 percent of the business's revenue come from alcohol sales.
'We Don't Want to Run a Slum Place'
The Sulejmanis said the "upscale" restaurant and bar would be nearly identical to Uptown's Reservoir on Montrose Avenue.
Lakewood Bistro would include three dining areas and a wrap-around bar on the entire floor level of the building, according to site plans. There would be room to sit more than 150 people.
Small plates, priced from $6 to $12, would include hummus, cheese, fried calamari, fish tacos, lamb meatballs and more. Sandwiches, including the Lakewood Burger, chicken club and lamb burger, would cost $8 to $11. Larger plates, including mac and cheese for $9, lamb shank for $17 and a New York Strip steak for $28, would also be on the menu.
Marcus Sulejmani said he planned to move into the building and his children attend Loyola University.
"We don’t want to run a slum place," he said. "Having a bad building doesn’t fit with the foresight of the neighborhood."
The Sulejmanis said they've spent $600,000 renovating the building recently and would spend another $800,000 opening the restaurant on the economically depressed section of Devon.
Several residents expressed concern about lifting the moratoriums that they say have protected their block from unwanted liquor stores and dive bars.
"It's a destabilizing thing," said Paul Kelly, who complained of rowdy college students roaming the neighborhood late at night.
He said a restaurant with a bar would be the "nuclear option" for addressing the empty storefronts that have been covered with signs with question marks on them for years.
"It can't be the only option," said the St. Ignatius parishioner.
Other neighbors were "indifferent" about the plans, while one resident asked how to get involved in collecting signatures for the petition to lift the liquor ban.
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