North Riverside elected officials are poised to make last call earlier at the two of the village’s three taverns – at least for the rest of 2021 — citing increased police responses to those establishments between 1 and 3 a.m.
The taverns in question – The Sweet Spot and Bar-Tini Lounge – both have the village’s Class A-1 Extended liquor license, which allows them to be open seven days a week until 3 a.m.
Trustees agreed at a meeting of the village board’s administrative committee on May 24 that they’ll seek to make closing time at the taverns 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
The shift to a 1 a.m. closing time on weekdays will align tavern last calls with restaurants and package stores, which require liquor sales to end at 1 a.m.
“I’m very sensitive to our small businesses … but at the same token we are having more and more incidents, and given our [police] midnight shift and the staffing levels of the village, I think it definitely warrants us taking a look at the hours of operation,” Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti told trustees on May 24. “It is putting significant pressure on the midnight shift after hours.”
While the discussion May 24 centered on the taverns, Scarpiniti subsequently confirmed that the change will also affect two restaurants that hold Class B-1 Extended licenses – Miller’s Ale House and Tipster’s Village Pub – as well as the holder of the lone Class C license, Riverside Golf Club. Those liquor licenses also allow alcohol sales until 3 a.m.
After initially including Big Corner Tavern, at the corner of Cermak Road and First Avenue, in the list of taverns possessing 3 a.m. licenses, Scarpiniti also subsequently confirmed that Big Corner Tavern’s license allows it to remain open only until 1 a.m.
Julie Justus, the owner of Big Corner Tavern, told the Landmark that the bar typically closes at midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends.
Trustees are expected to vote on the temporary rollback of bar hours at the June 7 meeting of the North Riverside Village Board, which takes place at 7 p.m. at the North Riverside Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave.
Class A-1 Extended liquor licenses cost $3,653, which is about $600 more than a regular Class A-1 license, which limits hours of operation to 1 a.m. seven days a week. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the village waived liquor licenses fees for restaurants, taverns and the golf club as part of a relief package passed earlier this year.
Acting Police Chief Christian Ehrenberg said he conducted a five-year study of police responses to the village’s taverns that showed 60 percent of all calls to those establishments came between 1 and 3 a.m.
As of May 23, police had responded to taverns 23 times, Ehrenberg told the Landmark, compared to 24 in all of 2020, although the pandemic limited bar hours significantly last year. However, in 2019 North Riverside police were called to the village’s three taverns 31 times in all, indicating that 2021 police responses to taverns are on pace to double 2019 responses.
Ehrenberg said police responded more often to The Sweet Spot and Bar-Tini Lounge, which sit a little more than a block away from each other on Desplaines Avenue.
Phone messages left by the Landmark for the owners of both The Sweet Spot and Bar-Tini Lounge were not returned.
The acting police chief also pointed to Forest Park where, in response to a spike in police responses to bars along Madison Street, elected officials moved to temporarily close down bars at 11 p.m.
Ehrenberg said that Forest Park police were arresting people who lived as far away as Bolingbrook, Aurora, Gurnee and Waukegan, indicating people are willing to travel long distances to take advantage of the late last calls.
Last call in Bolingbrook and Waukegan is midnight, said Ehrenberg. In Aurora, a city of 200,000 people, last call is 1 a.m. All of those cities are far larger than North Riverside, he noted.
“Why a 6,600 population town is having a 3 a.m. time to close, I have no idea,” Ehrenberg said.
Scarpiniti said all three taverns are located immediately adjacent to residential areas, adding officials needed to be cognizant of that fact.
“I’m thinking more of the residents that are in that area,” said Trustee Deborah Czjaka, who favored rolling back tavern hours. “We don’t need any more of that right now.”
Trustee Jason Bianco initially questioned the change, saying he wanted to hear from bar owners, who will see their bottom lines affected. He later agreed to pursue the change as a trial run.
“We don’t need last call in our town,” Bianco said. “If we find there’s been a huge reduction where we’re not getting the last-call people, then we stick with it.”
In the end all six elected officials at the May 24 committee meeting agreed to pursue the change. Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, who is a member of the committee, was absent.
It wasn’t that long ago that both The Sweet Spot and Bar-Tini Lounge closed their doors at 4 a.m.
Former Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. revived the 4 a.m. licenses in 2014 after an earlier administration had gotten rid of them. The experiment was short-lived, however. Less than two years later, Hermanek rescinded the 4 a.m. licenses after an uptick in police calls, including ones involving street gang members and weapons.
This story has been changed to correct the liquor license classification for Big Corner Tavern, which does not hold an extended hours license. It holds a license that allows it to remain open until 1 a.m.