North Riverside trustees voted unanimously on Nov. 1 to allow the village’s two late-night bars – Sweet Spot and Bar-Tini Lounge – to stay open an hour later on weeknights, but they declined to revert to allowing 3 a.m. closing times despite entreaties from the bar owners.
Effective upon passage of the ordinance on Nov. 1, closing time at the two bars, whose owners pay a premium for extended operating hours, was set at 2 a.m. seven days a week.
Last June, in response to a request from Police Chief Christian Ehrenberg, trustees voted to temporarily roll back closing time for the extended-hours taverns, which previously had been allowed to operate until 3 a.m. seven days a week.
The change this summer closed bars a 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
In September, Randy Womack, the owner of the Sweet Spot, 2531 Desplaines Ave., pleaded with trustees to reverse their June decision, saying it was killing his business. Officials did not act at that time, but with liquor license renewals coming in December, Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti told trustees she needed a permanent answer on extended bar hours.
“What we want to put an end to is other towns closing and getting that group of drunk people to come here,” said Trustee Terri Sarro, during a meeting of the village board’s administrative committee on Oct. 25.
Womack and John Downs, the owner of Bar-Tini Lounge, 2433 Desplaines Ave., argued the 3 a.m. closing time was critical to generate income for themselves and tax revenue for the village.
By way of illustration, Downs said that an analysis of his second quarter and third quarter revenue figures showed that video gambling revenue was down 26 percent and liquor sales down 24 percent. In all, he said, that amounted to more than $3,200 in tax revenue to the village for the quarter.
Downs also asked trustees to consider giving his bar and Sweet Spot a probationary period through the end of the year where they would reinstate a 3 a.m. last call and re-evaluate at that time.
Scarpiniti and Village Attorney Kevin Kearney pushed back against that idea, saying 2021 liquor licenses expired at midnight on Jan. 1 and that there wasn’t enough time to make such an arrangement work.
“The trouble is, the license is expiring and [bar owners] need to know what they’re applying for,” Kearney said.
What appears to have convinced trustees to settle on a blanket 2 a.m. closing time for extended hours bars was information Ehrenberg provided related to the bar closing times of surrounding municipalities and data on police calls to the Desplaines Avenue taverns since last call was rolled back in June.
The only neighboring municipality with 3 a.m. licenses was Berwyn, Ehrenberg said, while Brookfield allowed some bars to close a 2:30 a.m. on weekends and holidays. Broadview also had a 2 a.m. closing time.
Ehrenberg also provided a comparison of police calls from July through October in 2018 and 2019 when last call was 3 a.m. seven days a week and calls from those months in 2021, under the new closing time.
From July through October in 2018 police responded to 16 calls, and in 2019 they responded to 14 calls to the taverns. In 2021 during those months, they responded three times.
In 2018 and 2019, respectively, 63 percent and 60 percent of police calls to the bars came between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. In 2021, none of the calls came after midnight.
From January through June 2021, when closing time was 3 a.m., said Ehrenberg, police responded to the bars 29 times, with 69 percent of those calls coming after midnight. There were also three fights and eight “disturbance” calls.
From July 1 through Oct. 25, there were three calls for service with no fights or disturbances.
“I’m a firm proponent of ‘predictable is preventable,’” Ehrenberg said. “If we’re the only one open at 3 a.m. when the others are open until 1 or 2 a.m., they’re going to come here.
“That being said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a 2 a.m. liquor license seven days a week. It’s certainly better than 3 a.m.”
The change in the extended-hours liquor license rules also affected three other license holders – Miller’s Ale House, Tipsters Village Pub and Riverside Golf Club. According to Scarpiniti, neither Miller’s nor Village Pub stayed open until 3 a.m.
Moving forward, with the Nov. 1 vote, North Riverside no longer offers a liquor licenses with a 3 a.m. last call. The village’s A-1 Extended Hours license now requires taverns to be closed between the hours of 2 and 7 a.m.