A live music venue opens today in a former West Town sports bar, and neighbors are concerned that an old noise issue will become a problem once again. 551 Live, 551 N. Ogden Avenue, is in the building that housed Mahoney’s Pub & Grille. Owner Lodge Management Group, which runs 12 venues — including the Redhead Piano Bar, Irish pub River Shannon, and the Lodge Tavern in neighborhoods like River North and Gold Coast — decided to open a new bar in the West Town space.
Neighbors expressed concern over music blasting from outdoor speakers, street closures without notice, and towed cars in the vicinity of the former Mahoney’s. They are now worried that a live music venue will only exacerbate the problem. Emails to Alderman (27th Ward) Walter Burnett about the noise and potential permit violations have gone unanswered, and 13 people have signed an online petition calling for Burnett to disallow live music at the location.
Frustrations over what the petition describes as “excessive noise” came to a head on St. Patrick’s Day 2017, according to neighbor Greg Olson, who said the bar shut down the street without notifying residents and played loud music into the night. Olson alleges a pattern of other problems with the bar, including the unexpected towing of residents’s cars and improperly permitted events, though conflicts over loud music died down over the past few years. “Things were pretty good for a while and the concern is that’s going to change again,” Olson said.
The bar group responded in an email, writing “Lodge Management Group has always worked with the neighborhoods it serves, alongside their Alderman and with the various community associations,” and they invite concerned citizens to contact their corporate office.
The 551 Live website shows a list of live bands scheduled through the end of May, as well as events every Thursday with Live Band Karaoke. As previously reported, local bands will take the stage on Friday nights and regional bands will play on Saturdays.
For Olson, the problem lies in the replication of other Lodge Management venues in a neighborhood that differs from their typical locations. “We’re not trying to kick them out, but we would prefer something that the neighbors would actually want to enjoy,” he said. “I would say our neighborhood is a nice, family-friendly pocket of the city. We’re not trying to be Rush & Division, like the rest of the Lodge Group bars.”
Noise complaints can trigger significant issues for bars, including community meetings, disciplinary trials, liquor license hearings, lawsuits, and even forced shutdown by the city. An example of an extreme case saga is Bottled Blonde in River North. It remains open after a 2015 launch that neighbors fought before the first beer was poured.