A group of Austin residents shared mixed views about two proposed North Avenue restaurants requesting liquor licenses that would allow consumption on site.
The owners shared their vision for the restaurants Thursday during a community meeting organized by 29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro.
The businesses plan to open on the city side of North Avenue, between Austin and Melvina avenues. Both business owners assured a group of about 50 residents they only want to bring a great dining experience to the West Side.
“I wanted a fine dining restaurant on the West Side,” said Mary Proietti, chef and owner of Potluc. “We have no intention to have drunk people.”
Potluc was one of three Austin projects awarded a city grant last year. The fine-dining, family-style restaurant plans on opening at 6004 W. North Ave., while Urban Smoke Café, a family-style restaurant serving grilled and smoked food, will occupy the space at 6134-38 W. North Ave.
Both restaurants want to serve alcoholic beverages during their operating hours, the business owners said. But the precinct where they will be located was voted “dry” thanks to a state law that allows voters in the city of Chicago to prohibit businesses from getting liquor licenses in an entire precinct.
A few residents said the restaurants, which are requesting a consumption on-premises license to sell alcoholic beverages, violate the “dry precinct” they worked to get approved in the late 1990s.
According to the Illinois Liquor Control Act of 1934, no liquor licenses can be issued if a precinct has been voted dry. Chicago’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department advises business owners to check with the case managers if their proposed business location is “dry.”
Taliaferro said the precinct will remain dry, however, liquor moratoriums allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on their premises during business hours.
He emphasized both businesses are requesting from the city a consumption on-premises-incidental activity liquor license, which is granted to businesses that will not sell alcohol as their primary activity, such as hotels, banquet halls, restaurants and theaters.
Omar Bryant, owner of Urban Smoke Cafe and a veteran, said he attended culinary school after retiring from the U.S. military, and is known for doing events featuring his food in his home on the West Side.
Taliaferro said he “was very critical” of Bryant, saying he often received complaints of noise, littering and disturbance from Bryant’s neighbors.
But the alderman said Bryant has improved and deserves an opportunity, adding he agreed to open under an “operational agreement” stipulating certain conditions covering hours of operation, security and cleanliness.
Bryant told residents he “is looking forward,” and all he wants to do is “make people happy” by offering a place where residents can have a good time without leaving their community.
Bertha Frazier, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years, said she supports the restaurants opening and selling alcoholic beverages. She agrees with Taliaferro, who said both restaurants are a “great opportunity” to bring economic benefits to the ward by encouraging local residents to dine locally.
“I’m tired of going outside my community [to eat],” she said.
Frazier was one of more than a dozen residents who expressed support for the restaurants during last week’s meeting, adding they would like to see the community support Black-owned businesses.
In an interview with AustinTalks, Taliaferro said residents received a “misleading letter” that stated the alderman is “attempting to help” both businesses obtain a “Special Usage License.” He said the letter was a “political move” from opposing candidates running against him in the Feb. 28 election.
Thomas Simmons, a longtime resident, shared a copy of the letter dated Jan. 27 that he helped distribute to his neighbors, adding he passed out approximately 700 copies.
The letter, signed by “concerned community residents,” Donald L. Glover Sr. and Simmons states that businesses serving alcohol “goes expressly against the intent and will” of voters.
Simmons said they disagree with the way Taliaferro “suggested” businesses get their liquor licenses, adding he supports the businesses, but “they don’t want the alcohol.”
“He doesn’t consult the community about what he wants to do,” Glover Sr. added.
Simmons and Glover Sr. said they helped get the referendum on the November 1998 election ballot that led to the precinct being designated a “dry area.” Simmons said if the precinct reverses its “dry” designation, the business owners should file for a referendum to appear on the ballot for residents to decide, as the state law says. It appears both Simmons and Glover are supporting candidate CB Johnson, who they said has listened to their concerns.
According to data by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, the proposed location for both restaurants is part of a “dry” ward.
However, a city ordinance may exempt restaurants from being denied a consumption on the premises liquor license. The Municipal Code of Chicago, in subsection 4-60-021 (c), lifts the restriction on the issuance of licenses for the sale of liquor on the premises of sports stadiums, restaurants, theaters, hotels and casinos.
In 2017, the City Council approved an ordinance (02017-937), co-sponsored by Taliaferro, that states that additional licenses for the sale of alcoholic liquor for consumption on the premises on designated areas of North Avenue are subject to subsection 4-60-021(c). The ordinance includes the north side of North Avenue, from Austin Avenue to Meade Avenue and from Meade Avenue to Melvina Avenue. The proposed location for both restaurants falls within these areas.
After the meeting, Simmons said all he asks is that Taliaferro and the business owners “do the right thing,” or he’s “gonna get my attorney.”