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Wild Hare wins live music battle

Wild Hare, Nov. 2012, the stage will soon be singing (Sun-Times photo)

One love has blessed the Wild Hare music club.

Cook County Chancery Court Judge Leroy K. Martin Jr. ruled in favor of the popular North Side reggae-rock room Tuesday in its complaint for Administrative Review against the City of Chicago and ordered Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel to issue a PPA (Public Place of Amusement) license.

This allows live music at the Wild Hare, 2610 N. Halsted.

Judge Martin said Krimbel’s decision to deny the live music license was unlawful.

Efforts to obtain a PPA had been denied three times by the city as neighbors petiitioned against live music.

The Wild Hare began arguing for the right to have live music in November 2011.

Live music is what made the Wild Hare one of the most important Caribbean music clubs in the Midwest.

Toots and the Maytals, Billy “Caribbean Queen” Ocean and Jimmy Cliff appeared at the Hare’s former location near Wrigley Field. In the late 1990s, Lauryn Hill met her future companion Rohan Marley at the Wild Hare after a Fugees concert.

The Wild Hare reopned in mid-July 2012 in a former Notre Dame-themed sports bar at 2610 N. Halsted. The original Wild Hare closed in May 2011. Half of the ownership decided to sell the building, which became a taco restaurant.

The club remains a portal for tourists and the growing number of Caribbean immigrants to Chicago. The 50-seat bar at the new location features a set of 20 small flags of Caribbean countries that hang along the north wall. They run from Antigua and Barbuda to Trinidad & Tobago.

Alderman Michele Smith (43rd) was disappointed by the ruling.

“We think the neighbors proved their case,” she said on Wednesday. “We’re trying to understand what our legal options are. Now, what has to happen is the city has to decide if it is going to appeal the decision of the court.”

Wild.

Why was the fourth time the charm?

Wild Hare attorney Thomas R. Raines brought the matter into chancery court, which was the next step of appeal after the hearing license level.

“If they were right, I wouldn’t have appealed it to chancery court,” Raines said Tuesday night. “I knew they had zero chance of winning. I’ll tell you when I have a loser. This was a winner the minute they gave us a tavern license.”

The city gave the Wild Hare a tavern license on June 14, 2012–two days after denying a PPA license.

“We signed a seven-page plan of operaiton that is probably the most stringent plan of operation the CIty of Chicago has ever seen,” Raines said. “It is certainly the most stringent I ever saw. It makes my clients jump through all kinds of hoops to get a tavern license.”

Dining in the Wild Hare bar area, Nov. 2012, (Sun-Times photo)

Some things the 260-seat club agreed to in order to get the tavern license:

  • Soundproofing measures that includes a sound meter to regularly test decibel levels.
  • Security camera system, recording 24 hours a day.
  • A parking management plan which provide discounted parking in the neighborhood, including at the Home Depot lot, 2655 N. Halsted.
  • The Wild Hare will become a member of and attend meetings of WNA (Wrightwood Neighborhood Association) and other community organizations and participate in local C.A.P.S. meetings.

And the tavern liquor license was approved.

Raines said, “Once they give me a tavern license, the point of a PPA is completely moot. The occupancy stays the same. That was the argument I made in chancery court.”

In previous rulings judge Raymond J. Prosser said that neighbors met their burden of proof on two issues, the first being that parking or traffic congestion would be adversely affected by a PPA.

“The second basis was that granting a PPA would have an adverse effect on the character of the surrounding neighborhood because of our hours of operation,” Raines said. “Which is insane to think that because we are in the middle of an entertainment district with five other establishment with the same licenses in a two and a half block radius. And we’re open the same time as three of them–except for two of them–which are open two hours later than us seven days a week.”

The Wild Hare is a block north of Kingston Mines, 2548 N. Halsted, the popular blues club that stays open until 5 a.m. on weekends. B.L.U.E.S. has live music seven nights a week nearby at 2519 N. Halsted. The Wild Hare is open from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.

The Wild Hare is planning to reconfigure the club for live music. The 155-seat front concert room is smaller than the original’s 400-seat space.

“There is important work to do which will require additional investment to provide for a great live music room and comply with our agreement with the city,” partner William Glastris Jr. said Tuesday night. “There is no timetable set (for live music). There is much work to do and we intend to do it well.”

He would not say how much the legal battle cost WIld Hare LLC.

Glastris is a Chicago private equity investor and former concerts director for the A&O Board at Northwestern University. His other partners are Joel McCarthy, Asrat Sellassie, who co-opened the Wild Hare in 1985, and Ruphael Woldemariam. Sellassie and Woldermariam are members of the popular Ethiopian reggae band Dallol.

About 3,000 Ethiopians live in Chicago.

The Bulls’ Luol Deng and his family visited the old Hare several times because of the club’s connection to the Sudanese community and Dusty Baker popped in when he managed the Cubs. Late last year the Wild Hare delivered to the city a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures of support.

“We’ve been fortunate to have the unwavering support of the many, many friends of The Wild Hare who have come out despite the lack of live music,” Glastris said “We greatly appreciate the support of the many neighbors who have come in and encouraged us and dinner, etc. Lots of sweat equity from the owners and a fair amount of capital has been invested.”

Alderman Smith added, “Regardless of the outcome, we expect the owners of this business to be good neighbors. This is a residential neighborhood.”