Despite a weekend protest, Headquarters Beercade is forging ahead with a state-approved plan — one that’s the subject of a legal challenge from the city — to open a new location in Pilsen. The bar was to debut in early 2020, but the pandemic, the legal battle, and ongoing conflicts with neighbors has drawn out the timeline.
Protesters gathered Saturday, January 2 at the proposed site at 917 W. 18th Street, and sent out alerts to the media. There’s worries about traffic congestion and unruly patrons. The city sided with those complaints in February 2020 when the city’s liquor control commission rejected Headquarters plan. However, the bar’s management filed and won an appeal in December. The city has appealed the state’s decision and the next court date’s scheduled for April 8.
That’s just added to long-running tensions among neighbors and business owners. The conflict came to a head with the protest.
“This [protest] is years in the making,” co-owner Chireal Jordan tells Eater Chicago in their first public comments since the protest. “People are drumming up fear and untruths about our practices, about our unit, about our venue, to scare people in the neighborhood.”
Jordan, who is Black, adds that neighbors in River North and police officers have given them “sterling recommendations,” and that he doesn’t understand why “this particular part of Chicago is so passionate about trying to stop this.” He also worries that racism may be fueling the objections. Additionally, Jordan — a Pilsen resident himself — acknowledges worries about gentrification; restaurants have played roles in the gentrification in Pilsen and Logan Square.
Jordan was particularly frustrated with how media coverage failed to provide context, ignoring that fact that concerns have been simmering since 2019. That’s when Jordan — who has lived in Pilsen for a decade — and co-owner Brian Galati confirmed plans to open a new Headquarters Beercade location. The pair met with Ald. (25th Ward) Byron Sigcho-Lopez, and — according to Jordan — the alderman gave their plan his blessing. The meeting happened around Memorial Day 2019, and Jordan says the alderman asked only that they hold a job fair in the neighborhood.
Sigcho-Lopez denies ever giving Jordan his blessing. He tells Eater Chicago that he did briefly meet with ownership to explain the approval process, but that he never told ownership that he would approve the plan. The alderman adds that 173 residents signed a petition opposing Headquarters: “I think it’s the responsible thing for the local alderman to side with the majority of residents, and in this case it’s an overwhelming majority,” Sigcho-Lopez says.
Headquarters Beercade opened its first location seven years ago in River North. It’s a two-level former nightclub space with two bars filled with vintage video game and pinball machines. Pre-pandemic that space hosted DJs on the weekend while bartenders poured craft beer and cocktails. The team opened a Nashville location five years later and the crew also own Machine in Wicker Park. Ownership was eager to assure the neighborhood that Machine was a restaurant that broke free from Headquarter’s arcade bar theme.
Jordan says tthe Pilsen location would be more restaurant rather than bar, highlighting food from chef Pierce Buckman (Roister, Eleven Eleven). There will be games, but most of the 4,000-square-foot space will be devoted seating without dance floors, DJs, music events, or promoters.
Jordan says the tone of his interactions with some neighbors changed when, at the direction of Sigcho-Lopez’s office, they declined to meet privately with a neighbor who had reached out about his concerns. That resident, Carlos Colon, has since rallied others in the area to oppose the business. They also say that none of the concerned neighbors attended the community meetings held in the winter of 2019 in Pilsen. Colon, who lives across an alley from the proposed bar location, told Block Club Chicago back in November that he’s had bad experiences with intoxicated patrons from two nearby bars (Simone’s and Color Cocktail Factory). He said bar patrons left empty bottles and cans outside his house, and that he heard customers arguing and them urinating nearby.
Jordan says his team continued to try and address the issues raised by worried parties — namely loud music, increased traffic, and littering. He and Galati put together a plan of operations detailing their method for combatting these issues, like hiring security guards and setting up traffic monitoring, that was subsequently approved by the local police commander. Headquarters has hired additional security for its River North location on weekends.
The situation has perplexed Jordan. He’s scrambling to figure out the reasons behind it all: “The only reason I can see for them not wanting us in the neighborhood is that this is gentrification in their eyes, or they don’t want a Black operator in that part of the neighborhood.”
Concerns about anti-Black prejudice in Latinx communities arose in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests in June. Tensions spiked when social media posts claimed armed Latinx business owners were violently targeting African Americans. In response, nonprofit group Healthy Hood held a unity rally for African-American and Latinx communities with than 30 local chefs.
Sigcho-Lopez attended that rally. He says race “plays zero factor” with Headquarters’ situation. He also left the door open for Headquarters to adjust their plans.
“Obviously, we will welcome any revisions, and subject them to a public meeting like we do with any other public application,” he says.
The next hearing date over the city’s appeal regarding the liquor license is scheduled for April 8 in Cook County circuit court.