Ava’s Café, 7700 26th Street, North Riverside | Bob Uphues

Residents from the 2500 block of Hainsworth Avenue turned out at the March 20 meeting of the North Riverside Village Board, decrying the approval two weeks earlier of a liquor license for a wine bar to be located at 7700 26th Street.

Village trustees voted 4-2 to approve the liquor license for Ava’s Café, whose owner describes the concept as a pet-friendly wine bar. Trustees Marybelle Mandel and H. Bob Demopoulos voted against granting the liquor license for a tavern at that location, saying it was too close to residential properties on Hainsworth Avenue.

“I love this concept,” said Demopoulos prior to voting on March 6. “It’s modern, it’s hip, it’s all-inclusive. I just don’t like the location.”

Mandel prior to casting her no vote in the license predicted the wine bar would create parking problems for nearby homeowners and criticized the fact that the wine bar will also accommodate video gambling terminals, concluding that its primary purpose was a gaming establishment.

There is a small chain of standalone video gambling parlors operating under the Ava’s Café name in the Chicago suburbs, but it doesn’t appear to be related to the North Riverside venture.

Regardless, neighboring property owners blasted village officials March 20 for approving a liquor license at a location where a bar has never operated without informing them of the application.

“I didn’t hear about it until the meeting on [March 6],” said Hainsworth resident Sue Meadows. “We should have been notified.”

Meadows also said a bar would create parking problems for residents and questioned whether village officials had done their due diligence, pointing to Cornerstone Montessori School just a couple of doors to the west. The village code requires bars to be at least 100 feet from schools.

Rick Anderson, another resident, also criticized the village for not looping homeowners in on the prospect of a bar at the end of their block.

“I really am disgusted by the fact that this was a vote without any communication  for the neighbors,” Anderson said. “The neighbors need to know what was going to happen here. … This is not any other typical business, this is a bar.”

Maureen Rush, who applied for the liquor license and is the business owner, told the Landmark in a phone interview that her establishment was not connected to the other Ava’s Café businesses and that her wine bar is named after her dog, who died recently.

The property is owned by a corporation called MRE Portfolio One LLC , which purchased the former dry cleaners on the northwest corner of 26th Street and Hainsworth Avenue last June for $250,000.

The manager of MRE Portfolio One is listed in Illinois Secretary of State records as Harbor Smith Business Services, a Delaware corporation. However, a man named Jeff Rehberger is listed as a contact for the property owner on an Illinois State Fire Marshal permit application last October to remove a heating oil tank on the property.

Jeff Rehberger is also the name of the chief executive officer of Lucky Lincoln Gaming LLC, which is a licensed video gambling machine operator in Illinois. A message left at the phone number listed for Rehberger on the tank-removal permit application was not returned.

Both taverns and video gambling parlors are allowed by right in that particular zoning district. In December 2020, the village board voted unanimously to allow those uses in a vote to amend the zoning code at that time.

The village board granted Ava’s Café a late-night Class A-1 liquor license, which permits the sale of beer, wine and spirits from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. The annual fee for such a license is $3,653.

A full liquor license for standalone gambling parlors, defined in the village code as a place where revenue from the sale food/drinks account for no more than 49% of annual gross sales, costs $15,000 annually.

Both Rush and Mayor Joseph Mengoni said Ava’s Café was a business where food and drink would account for the majority of its annual revenue.

Mengoni explained to upset residents on March 13 that the village would open itself up to a discrimination lawsuit if it refused to grant a liquor license to a business that’s permitted at 8700 26th St. and exists elsewhere in places near residential districts.

Plans for Ava’s Café filed with the village show that there will be a bar seating eight people and three two-top tables in the main area. A separate gaming space will be located along the west front of the business.

Behind the building, plans show an outdoor beer garden with more seating. Rush said that outdoor area will be the “pet-friendly” aspect of the business.

“We’re incorporating the outdoor area to be a very relaxing, calming atmosphere,” Rush told the Landmark. 

The beer garden was a particular problem for Meadows, who noted it was just across the alley from her home.

“[It’s] right in our backyard, literally right where we sleep there’s going to be a beer garden for a wine bar,” Meadows said.