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Do cocktail garnishes turn a tavern into a restaurant — and mean you can’t bring your dog to the bar?

Some city inspectors apparently believe they do and are citing customers who bring their pets out for a drink. On Monday, the City Council’s License Committee moved to stop the overzealous inspectors.

The Chicago City Council is seeking to ensure dogs can continue to join their owners at bars.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Do fruit and vegetable garnishes used to decorate cocktails turn a Chicago tavern into a restaurant?

Some city inspectors apparently believe they do — to the point where they are citing customers who bring their dogs with them to the bar for violating a city ordinance prohibiting dogs inside restaurants.

On Monday, the City Council’s License Committee moved to stop such overzealous inspectors dead in their tracks.

The ordinance — championed by downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) at the behest of tavern owners — adds the words “portion of a premises licensed as a retail food establishment” to the section of the city code prohibiting dogs from entering restaurants.

Reilly stressed that the change only impacts “tavern licenses, not restaurants” and is simply aimed at clearing up “ambiguity in the city code” that some city inspectors have seized upon.

“What we had was certain Health Department inspectors walking into taverns that don’t have a retail food license, citing the fact that these taverns had garnishes for their drinks— like limes and lemons and orange slices — and therefore calling that food and suggesting then that dogs shouldn’t be allowed,” Reilly said.

“To be very clear, this does not mandate dogs in taverns,” he added. “This is voluntary. Only those tavern owners who choose to allow dogs in their establishments really care about this.”

Reilly noted that allowing dogs to accompany customers drinking at “outdoor patios spaces” has become a “very popular practice” at a number of taverns throughout the city, particularly during warm weather months.

“This is in response to a plea for help from the tavern industry,” Reilly said. “This simply is to clarify that, so long as a tavern licensee isn’t serving food as a retail food establishment, it’s okay for them to allow their customers to bring their dogs in for a visit.”

Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, noted that Chicago already has “dog-friendly sidewalk cafes for outdoor dining.”

“But let’s talk about indoors and taverns with no retail food ... Could you explain if that would allow dogs inside taverns that serve no food that are not service dogs?” Tunney asked his colleague.

Reilly replied, “Yes, it would.” But he said, “The decision to allow dogs is entirely up to the owner of the establishment. So those establishments that don’t want dogs simply won’t allow them.”

Reilly made it clear he doesn’t bring his own dog to the bar. But other dog owners feel differently. “This is to clarify that piece and make sure that our tavern owners aren’t being ticketed for something they’ve been doing for some time,” he said.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) noted that there are a number of taverns that don’t prepare or serve their own food, but allow area restaurants to deliver food to their drinking customers.

“They have alliances with pizza parlors and things like that and will deliver food. Where do those places fit in this sort of thing?” Smith said.

Reilly replied, “Those establishments would be covered by this. But I’m not familiar with that being such an issue. The instances brought to me as examples have been health inspectors citing the presence of fruit garnishes for cocktail. Less so for people getting a plate of meatloaf at a bar.”