BYOB stays; City Council excludes restaurants from crackdown

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 07/30/2014, 01:40pm

Bringing your own bottle of wine to a restaurant is a Chicago tradition that customers like and restaurant owners and their local aldermen want to keep.

On Wednesday, the City Council made certain the business-generating custom will stick around — and West Side Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) was fine with that. Graham persuaded her once-recalcitrant colleagues on the City Council’s License Committee to go along with a watered-down ordinance that exempts restaurants, but still allows aldermen to strip BYOB privileges from parts of their wards covering “no less than two contiguous city blocks” after notifying all other impacted businesses.

Once imposed, the two-block BYOB ban would have to remain in place for at least one year. Violators would face daily fines of $500-to-$1,000 for each offense and could also have their licenses suspended or revoked.

“Currently today, pool halls, barber shops, nail shops — all of those can do BYOB. It’s become a common trend that barber shops will maybe close up their shops and have parties at night. People would bring in their own alcohol. In some areas, it has caused a problem,” Graham has said. “This allows us the opportunity to regulate those areas while restaurants allowing BYOB responsibly are not affected. They would be exempted from this ordinance at this point.”

Under questioning at a committee hearing earlier this month, Local Liquor Control Commissioner Greg Steadman assured Northwest Side Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) that social clubs would remain free to hold bring in their own booze, so long as they are not licensed by the city and not making money off the parties they hold. Still, Sposato had concerns about what would happen if a two-block BYOB ban imposed by a neighboring alderman impacts his ward. “Vito’s been doing this forever in his barber shop. That’s just the big thing—especially in my neighborhood along Harlem Avenue with Italians. They like to come in and have a little bit of wine. If your ward happens to be across the street, I can see it creating some confusion,” Sposato said.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) represents a downtown ward that is home to hundreds of restaurants as well as art galleries that hold receptions where liquor is served. He asked Graham for a “particularly egregious example” of BYOB gone bad. She cited a shooting on Madison Street after BYOB party at a barber shop triggered a fight that spilled out onto the street. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) chimed in about a “full-blown party” he ran into recently at a barber shop on 75th Street.

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel put the brakes on Graham’s more sweeping ordinance that, colleagues feared, would have had a chilling effect on restaurants that use the lure of bringing your own bottle of wine to boost business. Graham’s original plan would have prohibited businesses located in precincts voted dry — now 12 percent of the city — from allowing patrons to consume alcohol, even if they bring in the booze themselves. After an avalanche of criticism, Graham agreed to exempt restaurants altogether.

♦ Also on Wednesday, the City Council agreed to give Chicago Police another tool to track cell phone thefts that account for 30 percent of all thefts citywide. The ordinance requires retail stores not operated by major cell phone companies, such as Sprint and Verizon, to keep detailed information about individuals who sell them previously-used phones and about the devices themselves. South Side Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) has said he introduced the ordinance with an eye toward making cell phone theft a little less lucrative and unlocking stolen phones a bit more difficult.

“Those cell phones are taken into stores. They are re-programmed. The thief gets an exceptional amount of money and it’s easy money. And the unsuspected victim now has to deal with the problems. And those problems affect identify theft, banking institutions, permanent injury and temporary injury,” Cochran told his colleagues at a recent committee hearing. “We are not targeting the legitimate cell phone dealers: the AT&T’s, the Apple’s, the Verizon Wireless. They are not those kinds of stores that will take a phone, pay for it over the counter and let a person walk out. You have to have a contract. It has to be tied to you. What we are trying to do is [target] those small cell phone stores that are supporting this kind of crime.” The ordinance is patterned after the city’s pawn shop ordinance, which already requires those establishments to keep a detailed log of goods, helping police find items that might have been stolen or fenced.

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