WICKER PARK — Members of an influential Wicker Park neighborhood group are questioning how a tavern license was awarded to The Crocodile, a bar and nightclub that has a history of crime — including the alleged battering of two bar employees last month by the bar's owner.
"The Wicker Park Committee is concerned and disappointed that the City granted a tavern license to The Crocodile, particularly after its history of violence and recent closure and police activity," the neighborhood group said in a statement.
Radoslaw "Radek" Hawryszczuk, 41, owner of the bar known as Crocodile at 1540 N. Milwaukee Ave., is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday, records show.
Hawryszczuk faces two misdemeanor charges of simple battery stemming from an altercation that allegedly occurred in his bar around 2:10 a.m. on Jan. 15.
In that incident, a 26-year-old woman said Hawryszczuk grabbed her left arm and a 44-year-old man said he was kicked by Hawryszczuk, according to a police report.
At the time of the incident, which witnesses said involved a female bartender, the bar was not licensed.
Crocodile's liquor license expired on Nov. 15, but the bar operated through the winter, abruptly closed in mid-January and then suddenly was reopened for one night on Feb. 1 by Christian DeBoer, who used a fictitious name when he told a DNAinfo reporter he was acting on behalf of Hawryszczuk.
DeBoer was arrested at the bar on Saturday for trespassing, police said.
On Feb. 10, the city issued a new tavern license to replace the bar's expired incidental liquor license, which is reserved for restaurants where primary sales come from food rather than alcohol.
The city requires any establishment that has alcohol sales as its main source of business to have a tavern license.
The city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection would not comment on the new license.
In 2013, 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) pushed for a zoning change for Crocodile to operate as a tavern and not as the bar-restaurant it had been operating as since opening in 2008.
Ed Tamminga, chairman of the Wicker Park Committee's preservation and development committee, warned in 2013 that "commercial zoning should not be handed out very casually."
"It's a big zoning change because it fully allows a tavern occupancy with a lot of tavern activities. It's pretty wide open," Tamminga said at the time. Given their previous objections to the zoning change, the news of the tavern license upset members of the neighborhood group.
In 2013, Moreno argued that the change to a commercial zoning would more accurately reflect that Crocodile is more of a bar than a restaurant.
Moreno previously told the community that he was going to pull the commercial zoning request until the owners agreed that 25 percent of its sales would come from food.
Tamminga and other members of the Wicker Park Committee wanted the bar's management to comply with a plan of operation that would make Crocodile commit to a 25 percent minimum of food sales.
"I believe having 25 percent food offerings is reasonable. We are working with the owner to have him comply," Moreno said in 2014.
A city source said that Crocodile does not have a plan of operation nor is it required to under a tavern license. The source said there is no requirement for 25 percent of sales to come from food.
When asked about Crocodile's new tavern license and community concerns, Moreno issued the following statement.
"I will be working with the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and other City departments to ensure that Crocodile, like all other businesses in the 1st Ward, complies with all applicable City rules and regulations, including those pertaining to its liquor license. If the business fails to abide by its legal requirements, I and the City will use all means available to ensure full compliance or, alternately, seek full enforcement actions against Crocodile, including punitive measures," Moreno said.
Mario Szpyrka, who owns the building and is Hawryszczuk's landlord, said that he was supportive of the commercial zoning change needed for the building to host a tavern when it was brought to his attention in 2013 by John MacGallion, a former Crocodile partner who left the business last year.
"It made logical sense at the time when it was introduced to me by [McGallion]. He had 26 other food and entertainment licenses. He was professional and thoughtful," Szpyrka said of McGallion, who left the day-to-day operations to Hawryszczuk.
Szpyrka declined to comment more about the situation, but described the commercial zoning, which allows a tavern on the premises vs. a restaurant that serves liquor, "a concern."
Hawryszczuk did not return requests for comment on the bar's reopening, DeBoer's arrest or his own battery charges.
On the afternoon of the reopening Saturday, Hawryszczuk used Facebook to solicit new workers.
"if you don't know how to bartend, just say hey I'm going to learn and we also thinking on servers (Barbacks and Security)," Hawryszczuk posted.
Illinois law requires all bartenders, servers and door personnel in Cook County to be certified by the Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training program.
The goal of the state-ordered certification is to help recognize signs of overconsumption and keep drunken drivers off the roads, according to the training program website.
Last summer, a 31-year-old man was wounded in a stabbing outside the bar. In September 2015, a man was beaten after allegedly "hitting on the wrong woman."
Tamminga said that the matter of Crocodile's new tavern license "will be an agenda item at our next general membership meeting" on March 1, and neighbors are encouraged "to report any concerns about the establishment, via letter, to the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection liquor license division," 121 N LaSalle, No. 805, Chicago, IL 60602.