Last year, arguing it was a way to reduce crime, Chicago rolled back alcohol sales at stores, meaning customers could no longer buy six-packs of beer or bottles of wine past midnight. The mandate, coupled with staffing difficulties that led businesses to reduce operating hours has dented the city’s reputation as a late-night haven.
Now, a year later, the city is taking aim at late-night bars. A Chicago alderman is calling on the city to consider eliminating bars with late-night tavern licenses in River North, suggesting these locations are contributing to violence in the area.
Second Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins, who represents parts of River North, as well as Wicker Park and West Town, told Block Club Chicago last week that bars with late-night tavern licenses — establishments that can serve until 4 a.m. on most nights, and until 5 a.m. Sunday — are “attracting the most violence.” He’s targeting downtown late-night tavern licenses, including those in River North. Hopkins also took to Twitter last week to argue his case writing that the police agree with his intentions.
This week, Hopkins reiterated his stance in his July 18 newsletter to constituents writing that late-night violence in entertainment districts, such as the Hubbard Street restaurant and bar strip, causes “strain on police resources to handle these sizable late-night crowds.”
“When you have large groups of intoxicated people who get into arguments inside or outside of a late night bar or club it’s a recipe for violence,” the newsletter reads.
Hopkins’s ward contains a McDonald’s on the 400 block of North State Street. In May, a shooting outside the restaurant killed two and injured seven, and the incident seems to be a catalyst. For downtown residents, the area seems more vulnerable to crime in recent years, even as shootings have declined citywide.
As of the afternoon of Tuesday, July 19, Hopkins has yet to make an ordinance proposal. River North is mostly represented by 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly. On Friday, July 15, Reilly tweeted that he agreed with Hopkins that there are many issues linked to late-night bars. However, he preferred to concentrate on bad actors versus telling all bars to close early: “Let’s focus on revoking the morons.”
Block Club’s story included data that supported Hopkins as the McDonald’s and downtown bars in question stand in two police districts, the 1st and 18th. Block Club reports a steady increase in crime since 2018 in both districts. The 1st District reported 72 batteries or assaults with a gun in 2022 as of July 14, up from 37 from the same period in 2018. The 18th District saw 56 batteries or assaults with a gun reported for the year up to July 14 compared to 29 over the same period in 2018.
After reading that data, well-known local crime blog CWBChicago shared its own numbers. According to that data, since 2020, police have sought charges in 13 of the 91 shootings in the second and 42nd wards. The state’s attorney’s office approved charges in 12 of those 13 cases.
“Let’s reroute traffic. Let’s stop packaged liquor sales at midnight. Let’s roll the curfew back to 10 pm. Let’s have metal detectors at the beach. Let’s shut down hotels. Let’s do everything EXCEPT aggressively pursue, prosecute, and incarcerate people who shoot and kill others,” CWBChicago tweeted on Thursday, July 14.
The discussion may remind Chicagoans of what happened in September to Jim’s Original, the famed sausage stand in University Village. According to the Sun-Times, Jim’s landlords, the University of Illinois at Chicago, fearing crime, told restaurants ownership that it had to curb its hours and needed to shut down between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. daily.
Overall, the city has issued 128 late-night liquor licenses to bars and restaurants across Chicago, including 11 in Hopkins’s ward. These bars and restaurants include spots like craft beer bar Clark Street Ale House, late-night mainstay Dublin’s Bar & Grill, and ritzy Gold Coast steakhouse Maple & Ash.
Hopkins’s words have stunned some restaurant and bar owners. Those who responded to Eater Chicago remained confused about the scope of Hopkins intentions and wondered whether he might be eyeing particular bars or restaurants with late-night licenses as well — places like Tao, Hard Rock Cafe, and Gibsons Steakhouse.
Staff at some of these restaurants are unaware ownership possess a late-night license as they routinely call closing time well before 5 a.m. In Maple & Ash’s case, owners aren’t worried about any restrictions. A spokesperson says any policy change wouldn’t affect how they conduct business. Other bar owners are being careful about what they say publicly. One bar rep, who asked to be anonymous, tells Eater Chicago that ownership is worried about retaliation from the council. That’s a sentiment shared by other bar owners who declined comment.
Restaurant owner and TV host Alpana Singh lives and works in the area. Her restaurant, Alpana, opened in March. And though Singh never sought to stay open late, she says safety is a complicated issue that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, police, and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office needs to address.
While Singh says crime can’t be the new norm, she supports enforcing existing policies, like laws against open alcohol containers and public intoxication, and carrying guns without a license.
“I live and work in the 18th District and the increase in crime is palpable,” Singh says. “I sometimes don’t recognize my own neighborhood. It seems the police is outnumbered and the businesses are left to deal with the differential. It’s sad for Chicago that people feel unsafe visiting what was once a crown jewel and dynamic entertainment district for the city.”