Bottled Blonde’s liquor license revocation hearing formally began today at City Hall, as residents testified about the same unruly, vomiting patrons and other safety concerns they’ve complained about since the River North bar opened in November 2015. Though they’ve worked together with owners to try to rectify those concerns, residents feel they’ve been ignored by the owners of the Arizona-based party bar chain. And so the process to revoke the Bottled Blonde’s license started, and Tuesday’s hearing saw testimony from two frustrated residents, a Chicago police officer, a member of Ald. Brendan Reilly’s (42nd) office, and a deputy city liquor commissioner.
Officials are hoping to wrap up testimony at the next hearing date, scheduled for Sept. 13. The crux of the conflict is if Bottled Blonde violated its operating agreement with the city with a bait and switch. Angry residents claim that the owners are running the space as a rowdy nightclub without the proper security. The establishment’s operating plan, which has been amended, is for a restaurant.
One note to file away: Even though Bottled Blonde made headlines earlier this year for its controversial dress code, that has no impact on the proceedings. However, residents have talked about another incident, June’s fatal car crash involving Bottled Blonde’s patrons. That type of tragic scenario is what they’re trying to avoid, residents have said.
Timothy Fitzgerald, the attorney representing Bottled Blonde, has argued that his clients have been subject to unfair stipulations including locking up liquor bottles used for bottle service, something he said other bars don’t have to do. However, deputy hearing officer Robert Nolan, who oversaw Tuesday’s hearing, wasn’t having any of Fitzgerald’s argument. He told Fitzgerald that no one forced Bottled Blonde’s owners into the agreement, and that they rushed into the deal because it sped up the opening of the $3 million restaurant.
“I have a real problem when you take the benefits and then bail, saying they [the city] doesn’t have the authority to enforce the agreement after a year...if you don’t believe this agreement is legal, don’t enter into it,” Nolan said.
Attorneys have progressed beyond the initial evidence-gathering in the case after three status hearings that took place over the course of three months starting in June. While Tuesday saw the testimony from four city witnesses, the next date should see one more from the city’s side and four from the Bottled Blonde’s side, including employees.
But it was more of the same complaints on Tuesday. Michelle Schwartz lives in a nearby building with her husband and dog. She told the audience on Tuesday about finding her home’s door covered with puke. Police officer Declan Coen testified about his undercover stops. During the day, he saw waitresses dressed in tank tops and jeans while serving pizzas. Later, the night shift came in with new servers who wore lingerie that brought tables drinks. He didn’t see many people eating food, like they would do at a restaurant. He did hear pulsating music.
The city rarely revokes a liquor license. Rio, the former Green Dolphin Club near Lincoln Park, closed in April as officials worried about violence. The city also shut down O’Malley’s Liquor Kitchen in February 2016.
Nolan wasn’t making any promises about wrapping up proceedings next week. Attorneys on both sides have scheduling conflicts. But a resolution to the saga, two years in the making, seems close.
- Bottled Blonde [Eater Chicago]