Just over a year after its debut in Burnside on Chicago’s South Side, a local hospitality veteran’s restaurant and bar is at the center of a swirl of controversy after complaints from neighbors sparked a series of citations from city officials. Now Nipsey’s Restaurant & Lounge, a casual dining and drinking spot inspired by Fox’s ’90s sitcom Martin, is facing calls for closure from area residents and elected officials, according to Block Club Chicago.
The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) this month issued Nipsey’s four citations and an order to stop offering live entertainment without the appropriate business license. BACP has specifically cited the venue for infractions including failure to display a sign asking patrons to leave quietly, exceeding occupancy limits, and failure to adhere to a “written plan of action,” a document detailing agreements with the neighborhood, including security measures.
Nipsey’s first opened in November 2020 at 9156 S. Stony Island Avenue. In short order, neighbors say they began to observe late-night patrons loudly arguing or blasting music from cars outside the venue. They also sometimes caught customers urinating near their homes and even heard occasional gunshots, they told Block Club. They responded swiftly: a month after the opening, nearby residents circulated a petition signed by the entire block that called for help from restaurant ownership and Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward).
The restaurant’s leadership — namely, managing partner Teddy Gilmore — says he’s once again being unfairly targeted by elected officials. In a post to hyper-local social media platform Nextdoor, he alleges that Harris and her team have actively worked against his business by refusing to meet with owners about licenses and launching more than 20 unplanned inspections since April 2021. Operators have not yet responded to a request for more information.
Harris disputed Gilmore’s claims of collusion against the restaurant, telling reporters that Gilmore hasn’t acknowledged the venue’s role in neighbors’s concerns. In turn, she says she will not support a live entertainment license for Nipsey’s and will “represent the community” in its desire to see the business close. BACP has already held a hearing this month regarding license violations, and a second is slated for January 28, 2022.
Gilmore, a longtime bartender-turned-activist who has tried to organize his fellow Black operators against racism in the industry, has leveled charges of institutional bigotry in the past. He previously operated embattled nightclub Nouveau Tavern in River North, which was temporarily closed twice by officials over license issues and a “drug and gang ordinance” violation. The club permanently closed in 2015 after two years in a move that management attributed to ongoing litigation with the city of Chicago.
At the time, Gilmore claimed that Ald. Brendan Riley (42nd Ward) and other city officials targeted his business as one of the few Black-owned venues in the neighborhood. Though Riley ultimately prevailed, he hasn’t forgotten about charges of racial bias. “When we shut down this shit show in River North, it was because I’m a ‘racist,’” he wrote last week on Twitter. “Can’t accuse Alderman Harris of that, so what’s the new excuse?”
Gilmore was also behind Cajun bar and restaurant Drinkhaus Supper Club in Greektown, which in 2019 was shut down by city for building code infractions. DrinkHaus’s ownership ultimately agreed to close permanently after a year in business. The prompt turnaround does starkly contrast with the approach to similar claims at white-owned bars, perhaps best illustrated by the extended saga of Bottled Blonde. The infamous River North bar drew the ire of neighbors for five years over seemingly endless traffic congestion, public vomiting, and overall late-night chaos. The watering hole’s Arizona-based parent company closed it permanently in July 2020.