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Racist Message Spray-Painted on Controversial River North Night Club

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | August 21, 2014 6:26am | Updated on August 21, 2014 1:57pm
 Racist graffiti was spray-painted on the outside of Nouveau Tavern.
Racist graffiti was spray-painted on the outside of Nouveau Tavern.
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DNAinfo/Lizzie Schiffman

RIVER NORTH — A racist message was spray-painted on the wall of a River North night club that's been embroiled in an ongoing battle with neighbors and has alleged discriminatory treatment in the past.

"N----- GO HOME" was scrawled in large white letters on the front of the Nouveau Tavern at 358 W. Ontario St., which has predominately black clientele.

"This is very disappointing," said Nouveau owner Marsette Mangum. "I'm born and raised in Chicago. I didn't move to River North to have a 'black only' anything. I felt that all the propaganda said that hey, we're in the post-racial [America] and everybody can compete everywhere, so sure, why wouldn't I want to go where you can get the most bang for your buck?"

 Someone spray-painted racist grafitti on the front of Nouveau Tavern, which is embroiled in a fight with neighbors.
Nouveau Tavern Tagged
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42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly's office, which is two blocks from Nouveau Tavern, declined to comment, but sent a crew to clean off the graffiti late Thursday morning. The restaurant's only exterior security camera faces the doorway, away from the windows that were spray painted.

Manager Brittany Spears said she was scared to return to work today, but Nouveau marketing director Teddy Gilmore said the restaurant plans to open at 5 p.m. today as always.

"That they would just do this out in the open, that's what scares me," she said.

Gilmore said the building's exterior was clean when he left around 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning, but Anthony Herrera, who works above the restaurant at Printable Promotions, said the spray paint was there by 6:30 a.m. when he came into work and snapped a picture. He said it struck him as "tasteless."

Lizzie Schiffman was going to take photos for another story about the tavern when she noticed the spray painted message:

On Wednesday, before he learned of the vandalism, Mangum said he was "very seriously considering filing a federal discrimination lawsuit" after he says his team has been made to jump through hoops other area restaurants haven't faced.

"Hopefully this will put to rest people falsely accusing us of playing the race card," he said. "There are still some clowns that are going to think that we did this — trust me. I'm not even in town, so I didn't go and spray paint my own restaurant."

Officials with the embattled Nouveau Tavern — which has been butting heads with River North residents since it opened six months ago — said Wednesday that tensions are so high with residents that someone egged cars owned by patrons of the club Saturday night.

Staff at Nouveau Tavern filed a police report Tuesday after they say three customers' cars parked across the street from the restaurant in front of a residential building were hit with eggs around 11 p.m.

Gilmore said the residential building's security guard also filed a report after seeing the eggs fall from an upper level of the building.

"At some point, somebody has to be able to look at this and say, 'Hey, this isn't right,'" Gilmore said Wednesday. "Now there's eggs being launched off from buildings. What would have happened if that would have hit someone in the face? ... We're dealing with a lot of stuff most restaurant owners don't have to deal with."

Police on Wednesday said they opened a criminal damage to vehicle investigation, but no one was in custody.

Mangum sent an "open letter" to DNAinfo Chicago Wednesday detailing his concerns.

Mangum said he's complied with Reilly's requests that he alter his signage "at a considerable expense," addressed residents' concerns about noise by barring exiting patrons from walking west on Ontario Street, and agreed to transfer his establishment's liquor license to his name.

Therefore, he concludes, the continued opposition to his business "must be racially motivated."

"We are [being] held to a different standard than our white counterparts," Mangum wrote. "All we ask is that we are treated the same as the other establishments in the area. It appears suspect at best to hear the neighborhood talk about public safety, yet remain strangely silent about the noise, public drunkenness, fights and, yes — even shootings — when they occur at other venues.

"This glaring disparity in reactions leads people to wonder why one venue and its owner is treated differently than his contemporaries."

Among other perceived injustices, Mangum said Nouveau Tavern's application to transfer the storefront's liquor license to the current owners has been languishing within the liquor commission, which he says has asked him for significantly more documentation than his fellow restaurateurs.

"I tell them [what I've had to provide] and they say, 'I've never had to turn in a fourth of that paperwork,'" he said. "If they were only required to turn in a fourth of the paperwork and documentation, what other conclusions are you supposed to draw?"

Mika Stambaugh, director of communications for the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department, declined to address Mangum's charges. 

"We cannot comment on pending litigation," she said in an email.

To keep the peace with neighbors, Nouveau now closes the street-facing windows at night to keep sound in, and recently hired more armed security staff to police patrons' behavior outside the business and clean the streets after closing.

"The thing that baffles us the most [is that] it's not like we're the only restaurant in the neighborhood," Mangum said. "There are several other restaurants in the neighborhood that have outdoor patios, that have outdoor speakers, but you're saying that all the noise is coming from Nouveau Tavern? That vomit, urine and trash in front of another restaurant a block and a half away was without question coming from Nouveau Tavern? That doesn't make sense.

"People were vomiting in the alley to the east of us before we even opened. ... If you're talking about safety, someone was just [shot] at Erie Cafe. Where's the backlash against them?" he said.

Earlier this year, the restaurant was shut down abruptly by the city around 8 p.m. on April 11 after its liquor license renewal request was refused. Mangum said he filed an appeal as soon as he could the following Monday and was permitted to reopen, but he said he suspects he was shut down late on a Friday specifically to keep him closed over the weekend.

“The establishment was operating without food or liquor licenses and was therefore immediately shut down by the Chicago Police Department,” Stambaugh told the Tribune shortly after the license was reinstated. "This action was taken with prior consultation of the local liquor commissioner and was not racially motivated.”

Much of the pushback has come from neighbors, who faced off with Gilmore at a recent CAPS meeting, alleging that the restaurant and its customers brought loud noise, littering and fights to the area.

River North Residents Association President Mike Riordan and the Near North CAPS beat facilitator could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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