Chireal Jordan is a bar and restaurant operator who figures the city has done him wrong.
It puts him in the company of a lot of other entrepreneurs, of course, but Jordan is unusual in that he’s fighting City Hall, meaning in this case the mayor’s office and an alderman. He stands a chance of winning.
Back in 2019, Jordan sought a liquor license for a restaurant in Pilsen. It would be an expansion of his venture called Headquarters Beercade, which operated a large dining and entertainment center in River North before the pandemic forced its closure. At 13,000 square feet, the bistro was suitable for DJs, dancing and corporate events. Its signature attraction was retro pinball games set on free play. It could reopen Friday when the city lifts restrictions on public gatherings.
Jordan looked to expand and found a spot at 917 W. 18th St., close to where he once lived. But the city told him he couldn’t get a liquor license. The business would have a “deleterious impact” on the surrounding area, said the city’s liquor control commissioner, Shannon Trotter.
A lot of business owners would have stopped there, but Jordan took on the trouble and expense to fight. He said opposition from residents was ginned up by people peddling falsehoods about the type of establishment he planned. Jordan also said opponents were taking out on him the problems associated with two bars in the vicinity, and his own history showed that he’d be responsible.
It might seem like a common refrain from people denied a liquor license, but when Jordan took his case to the License Appeal Commission, it unanimously agreed with him in October 2020.
The three-member panel includes one mayoral and two gubernatorial appointees. Give Jordan his license, they ordered. In a written decision, two members questioned the credibility of some residents’ testimony, and one said Pilsen’s alderman, Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who opposes Jordan’s plan, hasn’t been clear about his process for reviewing liquor licenses.
Jordan said his business in Pilsen would cover about 4,000 square feet and be much smaller and more sedate than the River North nightclub. He said residents who fought his plan never were told he planned a restaurant with a chef-curated menu. The License Appeal Commission picked up on that, too, and gave weight to the testimony of a current and retired police commander who backed his application.
“I have a great reputation in this business going back 20 years,” Jordan said. But he also wondered if there was something else behind the attacks, perhaps an objection to a Black entrepreneur investing in a Hispanic neighborhood.
Residents also have fought development that smacks of gentrification. “Some might believe that because I’m not Hispanic, I’m not really helping the neighborhood,” he said.
Jordan wants to operate on the first floor of a former paint manufacturing facility that Villa Capital Partners has renovated. Most of the five-story building contains shared offices.
After the commission’s decision, the city went to Cook County Circuit Court to try to enforce its denial of the license. A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department said both sides are filing motions for a hearing expected later this month.
Jordan said Sigcho-Lopez supported his proposal but backed off when activists gave him a petition with 173 signatures opposing the license for his business. The alderman denied that and voiced irritation that an appointed review board discounted the testimony of Pilsen residents. “Due diligence in the city code requires that neighbors get the opportunity to object to any liquor license,” he said.
The alderman said race is not an issue. He said he is looking at ways to deal with bars that are generating problems, regardless of ownership. Neighborhood residents and the testimony at the license appeal commission referred to noise, littering and other nuisances attributable to Simone’s and Color Cocktail Factory, both near Jordan’s spot.
A spokesman for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said it notified Color Cocktail Factory in April it lacked licensing. He also said the department has visited Simone’s many times but issued no citations. Sigcho-Lopez said he’s exploring getting voters to ban liquor sales in that vicinity.
He’s already involved in another liquor license fight, this one over a bar called The Giant Penny Whistle. As the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Brown reported last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot authorized it despite a longstanding moratorium on liquor licenses in its area.
“This is all about the quality of life and the family-oriented atmosphere we want to keep here,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
Jordan insisted those things can be enhanced, not threatened, by investment.