While there are certainly plenty of establishments that serve alcohol in North Riverside – a handful of taverns which have been operating at their present locations for decades, local institution bar/restaurants, chain restaurants in the Harlem/Cermak corridors – the appearance of a new establishment, especially in a location where such a use has never before existed is something of a unicorn for the village.
If not a unicorn, it certainly is a rake in danger of being stepped on if you are a public official tasked with approving a liquor license for such a place.
First, let’s get a couple things out of the way:
Yes, the building at 7700 26th St. is zoned such that someone could open a bar or restaurant serving alcohol or a gambling parlor serving alcohol by right. A December 2020 amendment to the zoning code specifically allows it.
At this time, we are taking at face value the village’s and business owner’s statements that the newly approved wine bar called Ava’s Place at 7700 26th St. will be just that, a wine bar serving a limited menu of food items, featuring a dog-friendly outdoor beer garden and a room for gambling machines, which are not the main revenue source for the business.
Whether or not that turns out to be the case is something the village will need to monitor. For one, there is a cap on the number of gambling parlors in the village, and North Riverside is at its allowable limit. Second, if the business does turn out to be more of a gambling-centric operation, the annual liquor license cost will jump from about $3,600 to $15,000. That’s not insignificant.
Regardless of all of that, approving a liquor license for a wine bar at a location that for decades has served as a sleepy dry cleaning business and which sits directly across the alley from single-family homes without letting the neighbors know this application was in the works was naïve at best.
Of course neighbors should have been told what was likely in the offing, whether the use is allowed by right or not. The matter should have been a subject at a public meeting – either a special committee or as new business at a regular board meeting – where no board action would take place.
While that may not have placated anyone who lives near the place, at least officials could have avoided the appearance that they were slipping one over on residents, who may not regularly check village board meeting agendas (a practice that officials ought never to assume).
It also would have given neighbors a voice and a way to meet the business owner and to negotiate some concessions, for example with regard to parking and noise and proposed hours of operation.
Instead, there’s anger and damage control and distrust that could have been mitigated by being open from the start.