The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Why Did Historic Pilsen Bar Harbee Liquors Abruptly Close?

By Stephanie Lulay | January 26, 2016 6:13am | Updated on January 26, 2016 3:19pm
 Harbee Liquors & Tavern, a historic Pilsen bar at 1345 W. 18th St., abruptly closed in December.
Harbee Liquors & Tavern, a historic Pilsen bar at 1345 W. 18th St., abruptly closed in December.
View Full Caption
Harbee Liquors & Tavern

PILSEN — Harbee Liquors & Tavern survived Prohibition and a changing Pilsen, but the historic bar couldn't weather its latest round of troubles. 

Built in the 1870s under a different name, Harbee's is one of the city's oldest bars. But in December, owner Steve Frytz unexpectedly decided to close the tavern. 

"Unfortunately we will be closed until further notice," he wrote on Harbee's Facebook page. "We wish everyone Happy Holidays and hope to be able to enter the New Year with a brighter start!"

Why did the popular bar close? Regulars who frequented the bar and even Ald. Danny Solis (25th) were left in the dark. 

"It's frustrating," Frytz said Monday. "My customers are in disbelief." 

What happened 

The problems plaguing Harbee's heated up in September 2014, when a man who was involved in a shooting on the block entered the bar as he fled the crime scene, Frytz said. 

"He pushed [the bouncers] out of the way, and we grabbed him and threw him out," said Frytz, who lives near Harbee's. The bar serves college graduates, police officers and artists, not criminals, he said. 

On Sept. 21, 2014, one person was shot in the 1300 block of West 18th Street near the bar, according to DNAinfo Chicago's shooting map. 

As police investigated the crime, Frytz provided bar security footage to the police. A month later, he was slapped with a ticket for not calling 911 that night, he said.

Frytz said he expected a small fine, but instead the case went to the city's Liquor Commissioner. To date, the case is still pending, Frytz said. 

The city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection confirmed there is a pending license disciplinary case against the business. Harbee's owners are charged with failing to notify police about an illegal incident that occurred on Sept. 21 and failing to appear at pre-trial hearings, said Mika Stambaugh, spokeswoman for the city agency. 

The case will next be heard Feb. 9, Stambaugh said. 

The city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection referred other questions about Harbee Liquors & Tavern to state liquor and revenue officials. 

Harbee's was also ticketed for serving alcohol to an underage customer during a 2014 compliance check, Frytz said. 

Frustrated with the pending case and battling illness, Frytz made the decision to close when the liquor license expired in November. He was ultimately worried that one more incident would result in the liquor license being revoked for good. 

"It's a sad thing, but I can't fight City Hall. I know how it ends," he said. 

If the 2014 incident is preventing the bar from renewing its liquor license, Solis said he would work with the business and city to help Harbee Liquors reopen. 

"This is not an establishment that has had issues," Solis said. "They were a very good bar and I'd be happy to support them." 

Will Harbee Liquors reopen? 

On Tuesday, Frytz said he was "on the fence" about whether he'll reopen the bar, which employed 13 bartenders and was packed Friday and Saturday nights before the tavern abruptly closed. 

Over the next week, he'll weigh the decision. 

"As a small-business owner, even if you are a great success, financially, it's still tight," he said. But "I'm hoping to get the coal back in the furnace and get back up and running." 

If Frytz decides to reopen the bar, he will first have to pay back taxes he owes to the state. 

The bar's liquor license expired Nov. 30, according to Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Harbee's owes back taxes to the state, said Horstman, who doubles as the spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue. Horstman declined to confirm the amount owed. 

Because the business owes back taxes to the state, Harbee Liquors & Tavern is not in good standing with the Illinois Secretary of State's office, which put a tax hold on the account Nov. 23, confirmed Tammy Hinds, a spokesman for the office. The tax hold prevents Frytz from filing Harbee Liquors' annual report with the Secretary of State's office, which is required to remain in good standing.

The state tax hold also prevents Frytz from renewing his city liquor license.

Established in 1878, Harbee Liquors & Tavern, 1345 W. 18th St., was named Harvey's before a 1960s license error accidentally changed the name to Harbee's, according to a 2013 Saveur article. During Prohibition, the bar sold buckets of beer for a nickel. 

The bar was previously owned by Frank and Harry Bauer, Frytz's uncles. They bought the bar in 1959, he said.  

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: