Watered-down BYOB crackdown advances with restaurants exempt

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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.

West Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) finally understands that — albeit eight months late.

On Wednesday, Graham convinced 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 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.”

Local Liquor Control Commissioner Greg Steadman added,

“This gives control to the local alderman to look at their ward independently, block-by-block to see who’s acting responsibly and who’s not and act accordingly.”

Under questioning, Steadman assured Northwest Side Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) that social clubs would remain free to 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 a 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.

Only after an avalanche of criticism did Graham agree to exempt restaurants altogether.

“Hopefully, it won’t be used a lot. But, if it needs to be used, the tool now exists,” Graham said.

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