Eight years ago, North Riverside decided it no longer wanted taverns closing at 4 a.m. and the village board moved to outlaw them. The four establishments that had the licenses were stripped of them, and the new closing time was moved to 3 a.m.
But last month, the village board changed course and now the village once again has a tavern that closes at 4 a.m. — and at least one other would like the same privilege.
On Feb. 17, trustees voted 5-0 to create a new liquor license classification allowing for a 4 a.m. closing time and Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. handed the first, and so far only, license to John Downs, the owner of Bar-Tini Lounge at 2433 Desplaines Ave.
Trustee Matthew Decosola was absent for the vote on Feb. 17, but he voted against creating the new classification at a prior committee meeting on the subject.
“The reason for the change is that [nine] years ago, the bar ownership and the people going into those bars were a lot different than it is now,” said Hermanek. “There were bad places with a lot of incidents and lots of problems. That’s why the 4 a.m. licenses ended.”
However, said Hermanek, with new ownership at most every bar in town in recent years, it was time for the village to rethink its policy on 4 a.m. licenses.
“In the last few years some upstanding people have bought the bars,” said Hermanek. “It’s a lot different than it used to be.”
Downs approached North Riverside in 2013 about the prospect of obtaining a 4 a.m. license. The tavern that occupied the space immediately prior to Bar-Tini had a 4 a.m. license, and Downs wondered if that policy might be revived.
“The second-shift is the crowd we’re going after,” said Downs. “Right now those people are going to Edens [Lanes in Westchester] and into the city. Why not keep our local people local?”
A big draw, and an area where he’s seen revenues increase since instituting the 4 a.m. closing time on Feb. 20, is food sales. Downs said Bar-Tini’s grill is open until 3:30 a.m.
“My food sales have quadrupled,” he said.
Hermanek said he agreed to bring the matter to the board and, if the board agreed to create the 4 a.m. classification, to grant the license to Downs, because of the establishment’s record since opening in 2010.
Since 2011, according to records on file with the North Riverside Police Department, there have been five police reports generated in relation to Bar-Tini, with none generated in 2013. One of the four reports involved an allegation of battery, but charges were not filed.
Two of the incidents involved minor damage to bar property, and one involved the theft of a purse. The final one related to a door to the property, which appeared to have been tampered with.
“They’ve been exceptional and no problem,” said Hermanek.
Hermanek said he granted Bar-Tini Lounge the 4 a.m. licensed based on the understanding that it could be revoked and returned to a 3 a.m. license if there were any problems in the future.
Downs said he’s installed video surveillance cameras throughout the property and said he avoids trouble by not putting up with it in the first place.
“I won’t tolerate the troublemakers and gangbangers,” said Downs. “If you set the precedent from the beginning, they won’t come in. I also welcome the police to walk through as much as possible.”
The privilege of having a 4 a.m. license will cost Downs an extra $1,000 per year in license fees. A 3 a.m. license, according to the village’s code of ordinances, costs $3,654 annually.
On March 3, the village board moved to restrict the number of 4 a.m. licenses in the village to one. The board would have to change the law to allow future 4 a.m. licenses.
News that the village is open to 4 a.m. licenses has also prompted the owner of The Sweet Spot at 2531 Desplaines Ave. to make an inquiry, but the village thus far hasn’t been as receptive.
While the bar’s owner, Randy Womack, told the Landmark last week that he hasn’t been turned down by the village, Hermanek indicated that the bar isn’t likely to be granted a 4 a.m. license.
“The Sweet Spot’s record is not as good [as Bar-Tini’s],” said Hermanek. “If they improve I may reconsider.”
Police records indicate that since the beginning of 2011, officers have filed 22 reports associated with the Sweet Spot, including nine classified as fights or battery complaints, though very few of those calls resulted in charges.
The latest call to police complaining of a fight at The Sweet Spot came on Jan. 1, 2014. No arrests were made. In addition to the fight complaints, police have reported several other “disturbance” incidents, four thefts and two DUIs at that address.
Asked to comment on his wish to obtain a 4 a.m. license, Womack declined to elaborate. The Sweet Spot’s last call is 3 a.m.
“I really couldn’t chime in on that,” said Womack, though he added, “I’m still looking to get it.”
When the 4 a.m. licenses ended on Jan. 1, 2006, there were only four establishments holding them. The only one of those four still owned by the same person is Tipster’s Village Pub at 8839 Cermak Road.
But even though he has the chance to revisit such a license, said owner Frank Nadile, he wouldn’t bother.
“No, 3 a.m. is plenty late,” said Nadile. “Those days are gone. There’s nothing but trouble that late at night.”
There was a time when The Village Pub would get the business from second shifters looking to unwind before heading home, but no more.
“That business is all gone for us,” Nadile said.