The truth is; getting a liquor license in Chicago is tough.
You’ll likely run into roadblocks, both legal and political.
I’m an expert at removing those roadblocks and will get your liquor license as soon as possible while avoiding costly mistakes.
Here are just a few liquor license nightmares that turned into success stories…
Restaurant Owner Facing Shutdown Takes the Stand in His Defense
A client owned a Mexican themed restaurant near Kedzie and Wilson. He also owned a pool hall (separate business) next door to restaurant.
A wall separated the pool hall and the restaurant. And what he did was an illegal expansion of use.
In short, he knocked this wall down, and started serving alcohol on the pool hall side. See, he thought he could do this since he had a liquor license for the restaurant.
However, the city doesn’t permit you to sell, serve or allow alcohol to be consumed in an area that was not on the original floor plan. The city calls that an expansion of use, for which you need to get an additional liquor license.
So the city moved to shut his restaurant permanently, and I had to go to trial to stop the city from revoking his liquor license.
Anyway, my client took the stand in his defense and said, “I was dumb and stupid. I didn’t know I couldn’t do this.”
The fact that my client told the truth (which I advised him to do,) and the fact that he had a good disciplinary history—delivered the desired outcome—we got the liquor license revocation reversed!
Bottom line: He was able to stay in business.
Restaurant Too Close to Church Still Gets Liquor License!
My client asked me to get an outdoor patio liquor license for his restaurant. This was no easy feat.
That’s because a church sits within 100-feet of the outdoor patio’s property line! Just know: Illinois liquor control statute says you cannot have a liquor license within 100-feet of a church.
For this reason, my team lobbied in Springfield to get an exception to that 100-foot prohibition passed. We succeeded!
In fact, the Illinois liquor control statute shows we got the law passed. And more importantly, this new law carved out an exception for my client.
Bottom line: If we didn’t get the Illinois General Assembly to pass this law, my client would never get an outdoor patio liquor license.
River North Nightclub Gets 4:00 A.M. Late Hour License Despite Alderman’s Objection
No doubt about it, one of the most difficult liquor licenses to get in Chicago is the late hour license.
After all, most nightclubs close at 2:00 a.m. Only a small percentage of them have the coveted 4:00 a.m. late hour license. So if patrons still want to drink after 2:00 a.m., they must leave most clubs to go to another club with a 4:00 a.m. license.
What’s interesting about my client’s River North nightclub (name withheld for privacy reasons) is this:
I got him the 4:00 a.m. late hour license over the objection of the then sitting alderman.
Typically, when an alderman objects, you don’t get the license. Period.
So, I had to put on a trial at the license appeal commission to overcome his objection. In a nutshell, he claimed that issuing a 4:00 a.m. license would unnecessarily disrupt the residential character of the neighborhood.
However, only a handful of residents lived within 500-feet of my client’s nightclub. Still, this was no walk-in-the-park for me. On the one hand, I wanted to get the 4:00 a.m. license. On the other hand, I didn’t want to embarrass or upset the alderman. That’s because he could make life difficult for my client.
What did I discreetly do to help the alderman save face?
During the cross-examination, I proved that only 5 registered voters lived within 500-feet of my client’s nightclub.
Point being, this was not a residential neighborhood. I also showed the alderman photographs of all properties within 500-feet. And so, I clearly demonstrated this was a business district and not a residential district.
So yes, I contradicted the alderman’s argument that issuing a late hour license would disrupt the residential character of the neighborhood. But I contradicted his argument in a respectful manner, so as not to embarrass him.
In fact, I was so respectful that in the middle of my cross-examination, the alderman withdrew his objection.
Bottom line: I proved to the alderman and the court that I did my homework.
Again, I accomplished both objectives diplomatically.
And, as a result, my client got his 4:00 a.m. late hour license, and has been printing money ever since.
Nightclub Applies for a PPA License and Then Faces ZERO Business for 17-Days!
A public place of amusement license (PPA) makes it possible for a nightclub operator to charge a cover charge. As you may know, nightclubs can rake in $10, 25, 35, 50,000 dollars or more on a Friday or Saturday night because they have a PPA license.
That’s why my client (name withheld for privacy reasons) applied for this license. Soon thereafter, the city of Chicago granted and printed the PPA license.
Instead of handing it to me, the city alleged that my client had several fights on his premises. So, they wanted to suspend my client’s liquor license. And if client agreed to a 17-day suspension (closing,) the city would issue the PPA license then.
My horrified client said, “Francis, if I’m forced to close my nightclub for 17-days, I will lose a lot of business. My regulars and new patrons will just go somewhere else!”
For all these reasons, I dashed into court to file a lawsuit against the city of Chicago. As well as get the judge to immediately order the issuance of the PPA license. And more importantly, do it without requiring my client to close his club for 17-days.
Bottom line: Within a few hours after filing the lawsuit, the city gave my client his PPA license. And so, I withdrew the lawsuit against the city.
By the way, my legal strategy and results were a FIRST in liquor licensing litigation!
The First Brewery in the United States to Manufacture Slow City Makgeolli
My client John Oh is the President of Uniko Enterprises, Incorporated—a brewery based in Niles, Illinois.
His brewery has received an avalanche of publicity in the Korean community. All because it’s the first brewery in the United States to manufacture Slow City Makgeolli.
Slow City Makgeolli is a premium Korean rice wine. And it’s a unique product because he uses all-natural ingredients and his bottle allows for natural fermentation. As a result, his rice wine offers consumers a deliciously sweet and milky taste.
In order to manufacture Makgeolli, John needed to get a federal and state of Illinois manufacturers’ license. Now, it took about three months to get the federal license from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB.gov) After we received it, we had to get the state license from the Illinois liquor control commission.
Bottom line: John is selling his product wholesale to Korean restaurants, nightclubs, and grocery stores. In fact, he’s on the fast track to dominating the Makgeolli rice wine market in the United States.
You see, his competitors import their rice wine from South Korea while he manufactures his product in Niles, Illinois. And so, his fresh product gives him a competitive edge in the marketplace.
How a Chef, a Menu and a Few Polish Meals Persuaded the City to Finally Grant a Liquor License to My Client
Zbigniew Firosz applied for a Consumption on Premises—Incidental Activity License (COPIA) for his new restaurant. At first, he used a different attorney and the city denied his application for a liquor license.
Because the local liquor control commission believed that my client intended to operate a nightclub or tavern, and not a restaurant.
You see, next door to the Pink Krokodile Café (my client’s restaurant) was a problem nightclub with a late hour license. The fact is, the local police commander had to deal with many cases of intoxication, drunken fights, urination in the streets, and other types of criminal activity.
Subsequently, the city revoked this nightclub’s license and they went out of business. Point being, the city didn’t want to shutdown that establishment, just so my client could open up a similar type of establishment.
Now, here was the underlying problem:
How could we prove that our client was only going to operate a RESTAURANT rather than a problem nightclub similar to the one that was two doors down?
So, I proposed the following idea, “Why don’t we prove to the three commissioners on the license appeal commission that my client IS actually opening a restaurant, and not a nightclub.”
And, we did just exactly that!
My client brought in several delicious Polish dishes, so he could show them off to the commissioners. In addition, he showed his menu. And to top it all off, his chef was present during the hearing, too!
For all these reasons, the Chairman of the license appeal commission asked me a question, “When is this restaurant going to open?” And I replied with, “As soon as you give me the license!”
Bottom line: We proved to the court that my client’s restaurant would only serve Polish style food. And that this restaurant’s primary purpose was the sale of food with alcohol being only incidental.
Partners Saddled with Department of Revenue Holds Get Liquor Licenses for New Hotel and Restaurant
A downtown Chicago hotel hired my firm to help them get a hotel liquor license. As well as an internal license for an upscale restaurant within the hotel (name withheld for privacy reasons.)
A group of partners owned this hotel. But they couldn’t get either liquor license because some of the partners owned other hotels.
Namely, hotels allegedly saddled with various Department of Revenue “holds” on them. Point being, if you have a Department of Revenue “hold” on another business; it affects your application to get a liquor license for a new business.
Anyway, my client was in the eye of the storm. And to make matters worse, this was a complex case.
Still, we were able to clarify that the other partners were already on a payment plan regarding those alleged revenue holds, and were in fact, making payments. And because they were making payments on the alleged revenue holds for the other hotels, they were in compliance.
Bottom line: We showed City Hall that the partners complied with prior negotiated deals. So, the hold on the two liquor license applications was lifted.
Businesswoman Succeeds Against All Odds to Keep Gay and Lesbian Bar and New Restaurant OPEN
A popular uptown Gay and Lesbian bar and adjacent restaurant faced imminent shutdown over a liquor license dispute.
To put it in a nutshell, my client (name withheld for privacy reasons) applied for an incidental liquor license to serve drinks along with food at her new restaurant.
However, the Chicago Police Department determined that her restaurant space was less than 100-feet from a synagogue. Under a State Law from 1936, a liquor license cannot be issued when a licensee is within 100-feet of a church or place of worship.
And so, the liquor commission started proceedings to revoke my client’s liquor license. This unexpected decision came as a shock.
That’s because a continuous liquor license and tavern have existed at my client’s location since 1944. And that doesn’t take into account that she owned her bar for 18-years!
Bottom line: My client’s bar and restaurant faced permanent closing over a liquor license dispute. Thanks to support from several aldermen and a strong case, Chicago’s liquor commission stopped the revocation efforts.
Rooftop Diner Gets One of the Toughest Licenses to Get in Chicago
I helped a busy pizzeria in Bucktown get its liquor license. But that’s not all. My client asked me to get him a rooftop liquor license for another restaurant he owned.
In case you don’t know and not everybody does…
A rooftop liquor license is one of the toughest licenses to get in Chicago.
In order to get a rooftop liquor license, you have to get a special use permit from the zoning board of appeals.
Mind you, this was no easy feat. See, residents in the neighborhood typically object to an outdoor patio on the grounds of noise.
Bottom line: We were able to get a liquor license for our client’s rooftop outdoor patio.
Police Chief and Fire Department’s Battalion Commander Fail to Provide Ample Proof—Nightclub Reopens!
My client’s nightclub located in Bucktown has a 4:00 a.m. late hour license.
To cut short a long story, he (name withheld for privacy reasons) promoted urban themed shows.
Now, alleged fights broke out inside and outside the club during most shows. For this reason, a day of reckoning occurred between the club and the local district police commander.
You see, each premise has an occupancy placard. An occupancy placard tells you the maximum number of people that can be on the premises.
Obviously, nightclubs want to pack in as many people as possible. But if you have more people on the premises than allowed—it’s grounds for license revocation.
In other words, the city shuts you down for good!
With that said, there were allegations of over-occupancy in the nightclub on TWO SEPARATE DATES.
And the way it works is that the city files a complaint against the club. During the hearing (trial), the city attempts to prove the club was over-occupied. As I stated, if the city proves the over-occupancy, they revoke your liquor license. You are shutdown forever!
Turns out, we had to litigate for a year. During this time, my client couldn’t operate his nightclub. Anyway, we finally get the hearing dates. The police chief was the main witness for one of the over-occupancy charges. And the fire department’s battalion commander was the witness for the other.
Now, here are the parts about this case that will most interest you:
The city of Chicago uses a formula to determine occupancy limits for nightclubs. Based on the city’s ordinance, nightclubs must allow 6-square feet per person.
With that and other factors in mind, I cross-examined both witnesses. Most importantly, I established that neither witness could prove the club was over-occupied on either date.
Bottom line: I got my client’s nightclub reopened.
DISCLAIMER: The results are specific to the facts and legal circumstances of each of the clients’ cases and should not be used to form an expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client’s case.