After five years of turmoil, Bottled Blonde is officially closed. Its windows are taped up with black garbage bags and all social media accounts are deleted. A worker outside the embattled River North bar said Tuesday morning that ownership decided to close Monday because of COVID-19 and its simmering legal battle against the city. A Chicago spokesperson confirms the closure, saying that Bottled Blonde surrendered its business licensee on Monday.
Neighbors waged a battle against the “contemporary Italian restaurant” even before it opened in 2015. While licensed as a restaurant, neighbors complained it was operated like a nightclub. There were noise complaints to police and frustration about traffic congestion as patrons lined up near Wells and Illinois streets. Videos showed patrons exiting the venue late at night and vomiting on sidewalks. River North residents living in condo and apartment towers didn’t want to worry about that in their neighborhood.
The city ultimately stripped Bottled Blonde of its liquor license in 2017. Bottled Blonde countersued, which allowed the venue to continue business as the lawsuit remained tied up in courts. A legal back-and-forth continued through this year.
A prevailing gripe was management deceived the city when submitting its business plan to obtain licenses. It portrayed itself as a restaurant where sports fans could watch a game if they wanted. Instead, at numerous meetings held at City Hall police described a scene where seating was moved nightly to make room for a dance floor and DJs regularly blared music. Residents argued that this part of River North wasn’t the right match for the business; it wasn’t Hubbard Street, which is more of an entertainment district.
Bottled Blonde brought a college spring break mentality to Chicago, and it’s part of an Arizona-based chain, Evening Entertainment Group. The company operates other locations in Dallas and Arizona. Corporate didn’t return a request for comment Monday night. Bottled Blonde was in the spotlight last month after Instagram account End Chicago Nightlife Racism — a handle that focuses on stories about racism at Chicago’s bars and clubs — published a video of a man who worked as a manager at Bottled Blonde using the N-Word. Back in June, a spokesperson for Evening Entertainment confirmed the man worked for Bottled Blonde, but left in March.
Neighbors who attended community meetings and kept up with the saga through the years expressed muted satisfaction Tuesday. The pandemic makes it difficult to celebrate anything. Bottled Blonde management has maintained it wasn’t treated fairly by the city. They’ve tried to work with neighbors by hiring additional security. But ultimately, it was the business climate that led to the closure. Bottled Blonde, which serves pizza and the tragically named “Double B Burger,” had no outdoor seating, and the city only allows restaurants a 20-percent customer capacity.
A spokesperson for the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department (BACP) provided a statement confirming the closure:
“Yesterday, Bottled Blonde surrendered their business licenses, permanently closing the River North bar after a series of serious nuisance conditions dating back to 2017. The establishment has a history of egregious license violations, including over-occupancy, noise violations, public urination, vomiting, and other problematic conditions that have had a serious impact on neighbors and the surrounding community. The City is pleased that yesterday’s action will end three years of legal proceedings with the permanent closure of this problem business.”
Through the years, Bottled Blonde contributed many memorable stories. Here’s a summary:
- In August 2015, residents start circulating a petition before Bottled Blonde opens. They’re worried about noise and traffic. They also create a website in hopes of sending a message to ownership.
- In November 2015, Bottled Blonde opens, describing itself as a contemporary Italian restaurant. It becomes a spot for Sunday football and late nights.
- In March 2016 — after several calls to police and to Ald. (42nd Ward) Brendan Reilly’s office from residents — the first of several community meetings takes place at City Hall. The goal is to work with neighbors and Bottled Blonde management to make everyone happy. No one is happy. There are complaints about Bottled Blonde customers vomiting in alleys as they exit the establishment.
- At a May 2016 community meeting at City Hall, Bottled Blonde’s attorney compared the River North venue to fine dining restaurants Next and Schwa. The context is that the city and general public shouldn’t pigeonhole Bottled Blonde; if the city did it would limit imagination and the potential for business operators.
- In October 2016, a report emerges that a patron, an off-duty police officers, pulled a gun inside Bottled Blonde to break up a fight.
- In May 2017, word spread online of a controversial dress code posted outside Bottled Blonde’s entrance. The code was quickly removed, but not before a chorus condemned the racist policies that are often used by bars to target Black men and keep them out of their establishments.
- In September 2017, Bottled Blonde fires attorney Timothy Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald wasn’t able to make a court date due to an arrest in Michigan. Bottled Blonde was represented by more than one lawyer over these five years.
- In November 2017, the city revokes Bottled Blonde’s liquor license. Management files a counter lawsuit. They continue to do business.
- In October 2019, the city raids Bottled Blonde and closes the venue down. Business licenses are revoked. Bottled Blonde attorneys file an appeal; the bar reopens.
- In January, Bottled Blonde files another lawsuit against the city and alleges Chicago’s noise ordinance violates the state’s constitution.