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Tavern Owner's 'Dream' Restaurant a Nightmare for Residents, Neighbors Say

 The interior of Nouveau Tavern in River North, including the street-facing windows that management promised to close late at night as part of a compromise with residents.
The interior of Nouveau Tavern in River North, including the street-facing windows that management promised to close late at night as part of a compromise with residents.
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RIVER NORTH — Nouveau Tavern has been operating at 358 W. Ontario St. for about six months, and in that time, nearby residents say the block has seen an uptick in late-night noise, litter and property damage.

Tensions between neighbors and the "New Orleans-style" bar and restaurant came to a head last week when Nouveau Tavern's marketing director, Teddy Gilmore, sat in on a neighborhood CAPS meeting where residents from The Montgomery, Timber Valley Lofts and other nearby residential buildings came to voice their concerns.

Lizzie Schiffman explains what could happen if Nouveau Tavern continues to get complaints:

"In the six months that you've been here, there has been excessive noise," said Sheila Lyons, who said the noise from Nouveau Tavern's patrons keeps her up "every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night."

"In the six months that you have been open, I have not seen one person cleaning the streets," Lyons said. "And I am up. I can't sleep. I don't have a choice."

Nouveau Tavern's hours are 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday; and from 10 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. The restaurant is closed on Monday.

Another resident said broken and intact glass liquor bottles littering the sidewalks have become so commonplace on Sunday mornings that her young children have started picking them up and asking her why other people don't follow the rules about cleaning up after themselves — rules they learned at preschool.

Gilmore denied that all of the nightlife traffic on the stretch of Ontario Street between Orleans and Kingsbury streets was from his club. Still, he said he would take responsibility for policing everyone's behavior on that block after hours as much as possible.

But Gilmore said that the measures his team has taken to police patrons have also generated pushback from residents.

Once, Gilmore said a resident called the police to report a "drug transaction." As it turns out, there was money being passed in an envelope, but it was being given to four employees Gilmore assigned to pick up trash in the street after the club closes.

"We have four individuals, there's four bussers, and they clean the entire street," he said. "That's who was being handed the envelope. ... [It] was actually the bussers' tips from when they were outside cleaning up."

Another time, residents called the police to report "a suspicious person in a bulletproof vest with a gun on his side," but Gilmore said it was a club bouncer trying to clear Nouveau's exiting patrons from the street.

Gilmore said Monday he thought the CAPS meeting was productive, and that he wished the conversation had happened sooner. After an hour of back-and-forth with a half-dozen residents, he agreed to keep the bar's street-facing windows closed late at night to reduce noise, and to keep a log of street-cleaning shifts.

"We're not trying to just say, 'Hey, we don't care about your needs,'" he said.

Despite months of tension between the club and residents, "That was actually the first time that we've ever spoken to neighbors directly," he said.

At the meeting, Gilmore gave residents his personal cellphone number and urged them to call him directly with any issues or complaints as they come up.

"We're just trying to fit in here and become a good neighbor," he said. "We understand; we don't want to be a problem here, and we're trying to do everything we can to fit in. [The residents] were here before us."

But Gilmore echoed a plea he made to residents at last week's CAPS meeting asking residents to be more understanding as his team adjusts to the neighborhood.

"This was my best friend [owner Marsette Mangum]'s dream, to open up a restaurant," he said last week. "He poured his life savings into it. We want to do everything we can to make it work for everyone."

Still, residents discussed their options for recourse if conditions around Nouveau don't improve.

"This sounds like a liquor licensing issue," said Manuel Martinez, head of neighborhood group SOAR's Safety and Security Committee, hinting that objecting to the bar's licensing with 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly could be an option if residents aren't satisfied with the results of the CAPS mediation.

An earlier renewal request for Nouveau Tavern's liquor license was abruptly denied on April 11, forcing the bar and restaurant to close for a weekend before reopening the following Monday after owners filed an appeal.

At the time, Gilmore accused the city of closing Nouveau abruptly, and without warning, for racially motivated reasons.

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