Less than two years after granting two taverns 4 a.m. liquor licenses, North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. has moved to rescind them after an uptick in late-night incidents involving police responses.
Hermanek notified the owners of both Bar-Tini Lounge and The Sweet Spot, which are located about a block from one another in the 2400 and 2500 blocks of Desplaines Avenue, that 4 a.m. privileges were over as of Aug. 12.
“It got to the point where police were spending more time at the bars, which meant less time in the rest of the village,” said Hermanek. “That’s not fair to the rest of the area.”
Both bars will now close at 3 a.m., said Hermanek.
“If it continues to be a problem, it’ll be addressed,” Hermanek added.
The last straw, said Hermanek was an incident involving alleged gang members and a handgun at The Sweet Spot, 2531 Desplaines Ave., on Aug. 9 about 3:45 a.m.
A North Riverside police officer, who was positioned outside the bar because it was near closing time, saw several patrons exit the bar. One of them, a 34-year-old Cicero man, reportedly yelled, “Get the pistol, get the pistol” to another man who then entered a pickup truck and drove it into an alley next to the bar.
The police officer approached the truck to find out if a weapon was inside the vehicle. He reportedly found a loaded .40-caliber pistol, with a round chambered, in the glove compartment.
The owner of the gun, a 23-year-old Cicero man, reportedly had a concealed-carry permit for the weapon. The man yelling for the gun, however, is a convicted felon and self-admitted street gang member, said police.
He reportedly told police he called for the gun to defend himself because rival gang members inside the bar had told him, “It was on.”
The alleged gang member was charged with reckless conduct and booked on an active warrant for his arrest. Police took custody of the handgun overnight as a precaution, allowing its owner to claim it later that day.
Hermanek said that if not for the police officer’s intervention, the incident could have escalated into a shooting.
“Saturday night could’ve been something that could’ve had a terrible result involving a handgun,” Hermanek said. “Thanks to good police work, nothing happened. But we don’t need that anymore; it’s not worth it.”
Hermanek said he made his decision to end the 4 a.m. license experiment on Aug. 10 after getting a call from Police Chief Lane Niemann. According to Niemann, the mayor had assured him that if police believed the situation warranted, he’d support dropping the 4 a.m. closing time.
“He told me that if I felt it was not in the best interest of the community, to tell him, and I did,” said Niemann, who would receive daily reports from the midnight shift sergeant about tavern incidents.
Reports from that sergeant in consecutive days in late June indicate that calls for service at the 4 a.m. taverns were increasing and that off-duty police officers who had formerly frequented the taverns were going elsewhere because of an increase in bar patrons with gang affiliations.
Meanwhile, the sergeant noted, calls for service at bars closing earlier had almost no calls for service.
Despite increased tavern checks by police and requiring the 4 a.m. bars to increase security personnel, incidents continued to increase. Police call logs showed that between May and early August, police responded to 23 incidents at the two Desplaines Avenue bars. From January through April, police responded to nine calls for service.
Hermanek attributed some of the increased trouble to the fact that North Riverside was the only nearby suburban municipality that had 4 a.m. bars. Brookfield ended its 4 a.m. licenses at the end of 2014.
“There was a change at the beginning of the year once Brookfield bars started closing earlier,” Hermanek said. “We saw an increase in non-residents and an increase in police activity.”
The Sweet Spot attracted more police attention than Bar-Tini, which, until it was granted a 4 a.m. license in March 2014, had very few calls for police service. From January 2013 through April 2014, police were called to Bar-Tini just twice.
But from May through December 2014, police were called to Bar-Tini 12 times, with 17 calls for service during the first seven months of 2015.
The Sweet Spot had 11 calls for service in 2013, but just three in 2014 before getting its 4 a.m. license in July of that year. For the remainder of 2014, there were 19 police calls at the bar and another 15 through the first week of August 2015.
John Downs, the owner of Bar-Tini Lounge where incidents tended to be less serious, said he was disappointed in Hermanek’s decision. He felt his bar was being unfairly hurt by incidents happening a block south at The Sweet Spot.
“I think it’s unfortunate that, because of problems caused down the street at the other bar, I’m being punished for it as well,” Downs said. “I think it should be on a case-by-case basis.”
Downs said the loss of the additional hour would result in a revenue loss of between 20 and 25 percent. He said it would result in people losing their jobs.
“I’ll probably have to let people go and look at how to reconsider how I approach my business,” Downs said. “It’s unfortunate for me, but it is what it is, I guess.”
A phone message left at the bar for Sweet Spot owner Randy Womack was not returned.