CHICAGO — City Hall doesn't always shut down bars after neighbors complain, but when it does, it prefers a long process.
Records show the city has revoked 17 liquor licenses from restaurants (and rowdier clubs pretending to be restaurants) since mid-2015. City shutdowns ranged from a Wrigleyville "liquor kitchen" that's now a Starbucks to Rogers Park's former Hard Water Bar & Grill, which grappled with a shooting and hundreds of other complaints stemming from its late-night hours.
Polarizing River North bar Bottled Blonde could lose its liquor license following another set of disciplinary hearings starting Tuesday, less than 9 months after agreeing to change its business amid complaints the self-described pizzeria was actually a dance club drawing noisy lines and rowdy patrons.
Aside from a new, ridiculed dress code, not much has changed at Bottled Blonde since the agreement, some neighbors said. But a look at the city's public nuisance laws show that neighbors often have to wait for the noisy bar they want gone to shut its doors.
"This is a business with a business license, and as such is owed due process," Lilia Chacon, a spokeswoman for the city's department of business affairs and consumer protection, said in an email. "If this proceeds then yes, (Bottled Blonde) could lose (its) liquor license or business license, but not without due process, and this is just the beginning."
City Hall sells a variety of liquor licenses, including one for bars and clubs that primarily serve drinks and another for restaurants that sell booze on the side. Both licenses cost the same, but Chacon said there's often a "saturation point" with neighbors who have a say in what opens nearby.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose ward includes Bottled Blonde, has publicly told neighbors for years he frowns on granting new so-called tavern licenses to businesses that could attract more drunken mischief to River North.
Bottled Blonde has a restaurant license, or the wrong license if it derives most of its revenue from selling drinks.
The bar agreed to change its ways in September after a series of public nuisance hearings driven by neighbors' complaints. The bar promised city officials it would stop working with rotating "guest" DJs, start locking bottles served to tables and otherwise stop operating as a "dance club or venue," among other changes.
City law said the onus is on neighbors to show "by a preponderance of evidence" that a bar is a public nuisance, or "failed to take reasonable steps" toward its objectionable behavior. Bottled Blonde worked out a so-called plan of operation with City Hall last year in lieu of facing penalties, and could be fined or have its liquor license suspended or revoked if the city finds the bar isn't meeting its obligations now.
It wouldn't be the first time City Hall has closed a club for masquerading as a restaurant. Fanta Sea was shut down in Lincoln Square for the same reason in 2014.
Tuesday's hearing is expected to be a routine status check-in where Bottled Blonde and neighbors will briefly share evidence and schedule another hearing, Chacon said. No other action will be taken.
Controversy has surrounded Bottled Blonde since before it even opened in 2015, with more than 100 neighbors signing a petition then warning of the Arizona-based chain being a "rowdy Hooters." Some neighbors have raised incessant concerns about the bar, and Reilly told DNAinfo that his office has fielded "hundreds" of complaints stemming from Bottled Blonde. An off-duty police officer pulled a gun during a fight last fall in one of Bottled Blonde's bathrooms.
But shutting the bar down could be hard. Of the 17 restaurant liquor licenses revoked since mid-2015, at least six were pulled months after the business moved or closed, city records show. Others were the scene of violent crimes or, in the case of Wrigleyville's shuttered O'Malley's Liquor Kitchen, failed to make payments to the city. Rio, the former Green Dolphin club that was the scene of two slayings in 2015 off Ashland Avenue, held tavern and late-night liquor licenses that weren't revoked until March.
Bottled Blonde, conversely, is a popular bar that was Chicago's fifth most requested Lyft destination last year. The bar's managers and owners have repeatedly declined comment on their upcoming City Hall hearings.
"We do want people to stay in business, be lively and viable," Chacon said. "But we also are exquisitely sensitive to the community concerns when they're dealing with the cleanup."
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READ THE CHARGES:
The Changes Bottled Blonde Agreed To Make Last Year:
Bottled Blonde Plan of Action by Dave Matthews on Scribd