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Bottled Blonde at 504 N. Wells St. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Judge allows Bottled Blonde to keep liquor license — for now

SHARE Judge allows Bottled Blonde to keep liquor license — for now
SHARE Judge allows Bottled Blonde to keep liquor license — for now

The battle of Bottled Blonde still isn’t over.

A day after the city tried once more to strip the River North restaurant and bar of its liquor license, a Cook County judge ordered that the embattled establishment be allowed to stay open pending an appeals process.

The order from Cook County Judge Neil Cohen, however, came with some strict conditions, including a $100,000 bond.

Rosa Escareno, the commissioner for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, issued an order Tuesday revoking Bottled Blonde’s liquor license that would go into effect next week.

Attorneys for Bottled Blonde said the revocation would amount to a “death knell” and, in turn, filed an emergency motion to hold off the revocation while they appeal Escareno’s decision. On Wednesday, Cohen granted that motion.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision,” Bottled Blonde attorney Jeannie Gallucci said in an emailed statement. “River North is a vibrant part of the downtown Chicago business district, and Bottled Blonde looks forward tobeing a positive additionto this neighborhood for many years to come.”

Last year, the city moved to strip the Bottled Blonde of its liquor license following a host of alleged license violations and complaints from River North residents about loud music, unruly patrons and public urination and vomiting.

Bottled Blonde appealed the initial revocation — and that process is still pending. Cohen opted to combine the two revocation orders.

Cohen also ordered the establishment to give the city its revenue records from the last seven months by Dec. 15. Those records must also show a breakdown of food sales and liquor sales between midnight and 2 a.m., when Bottled Blonde closes. The next hearing is set for Dec. 19.

Bottled Blonde has contended that many of the complaints about unruly behavior could not be directly linked to the establishment and noted that the business has made efforts to relieve congestion and keep watch for illegal activity in and around its location the 500 block of North Wells.

Cohen agreed and said Bottled Blonde shouldn’t shoulder the responsibility for maintaining all public safety in the area, while also taking a swipe at the intelligence of Bottled Blonde staff.

“They’re not the police, and we don’t want them to be the police,” Cohen said. “They’re bouncers. They’re not members of Mensa.”

The city has also claimed that the majority of the establishment’s profits came from liquor sales and not from food, as its license requires.

“If they’re violating a fundamental term of their license, revocation is appropriate,” David Smith, an attorney for the city, said at Wednesday’s hearing.

Judge Cohen is also considering eliminating the establishment’s ability to charge a “table fee.” Bottled Blonde contends that those fees mandate customers who reserve tables to buy both food and alcohol.

The city alleges those fees are sometimes linked to customers buying bottle service, and therefore should be included in alcohol sales, not food sales. If those table fees were categorized as alcohol sales, food sales would account for about a third of Bottled Blonde’s revenue — less than the 50 percent that their license requires.

“We’re changing the character of this place,” Cohen said. “I want this place to stop thinking of itself as a bar and a tavern.”

“I’m not convinced that you’re a restaurant,” he added.

Bottled Blonde has also sued the city, claiming it didn’t properly sign the revised plan of operation after Mayor Rahm Emanuel left the office of the Liquor Control Commissioner vacant. Instead, it says the Department of Business Affairs signed the plan, which the lawsuit claims makes the plan void.

While Cohen raised his voice at several points during the three-hour hearing, there was at least one moment of levity when he appeared to reference a federal probe into allegations of job-buying within Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dorothy Brown’s office.

After Cohen told Bottled Blonde’s attorneys that they needed to post the $100,000 bond by next Monday, he grinned and added that it must be “made out to the Circuit Court of Cook County, not the Clerk.”

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