West Side alderman exempts restaurants from BYOB crackdown

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The time-honored Chicago tradition of allowing restaurant patrons to B.Y.O.B. — bring your own bottle — would continue in precincts voted dry, under a watered-down crackdown advanced by a West Side alderman.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said Monday she has lowered her sights, eight months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel put the brakes on a more sweeping ordinance that 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.

The new version introduced at last week’s City Council meeting would exempt restaurants altogether. It would allow aldermen to strip BYOB privileges from parts of their wards covering “no less than two contiguous city blocks” after notifying all other impacted businesses.

“I heard from a lot of restaurants that consider BYOB an opportunity to expand their business. Some aldermen were okay with letting restaurants have it in vote-dry precincts. They haven’t seen any incidents. Some feel, why fix something that wasn’t broken?” Graham said Monday.

“This was an opportunity to come back and address issues of potential violence and save businesses as well. It won’t affect aldermen in a way they don’t want. It’s not a blanket.”

Last fall, Graham pushed the more sweeping ordinance through a City Council committee in response to constituent concerns about the “intentions” of a banquet hall that was coming to a precinct they had taken pains to vote dry.

About a month ago, Graham said BYOB triggered yet another problem at a barber shop in her crime-ridden West Side ward. A fight broke that spilled out into the street and ended in a shooting.

“It’s common practice that beauty and nail shops are throwing parties after hours. They’re maybe having girls night out and bringing their own bottles. It draws an element that shouldn’t be there and doesn’tunderstand their limitations,” Graham said.

“If aldermen think nothing [bad] ever happens, they don’t have to use it. But, if you feel like you need it to curb a problem, there’s an opportunity for aldermen to put down a moratorium on BYOB in that area. It’s a tool in an alderman’s box.”

Last fall, Graham’s more sweeping ordinance touched a nerve with colleagues who accused her of going too far, potentially putting catering places out of business.

They argued that BYOB’s bring foot traffic to commercial strips and that, by attracting crowds, promote safety. Emanuel agreed, prompting Graham to pull the plug on the ordinance.

On Monday, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), one of the harshest critics, said he’s on board with Graham’s watered-down version.

“She’s dealing with it from a ward perspective. If that’s what she wants to do in her ward and it excludes restaurants, I’m up for the compromise,” Cochran said.

“My concern was [maintaining] the flexibility of having that in a restaurant. It’s extremely important, as we try to ensure that businesses are successful, that the customer is allowed to have a nice experience. If we have a situation that prohibits people from being comfortable having a drink responsibly,” it would hurt business.

Emanuel’s communication director Kelley Quinn agreed, adding, “We support the alderman’s efforts and have been working with her to accomplish her goals.”

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