The alderman who oversees the city's business-license structure, the 47th Ward's Eugene Schulter, says that he's been hearing "horror stories" from businesses all over the city. One of concern to music fans involves Lounge Ax. According to the city's liquor commission, the club, which has been presenting live music almost every night for the past decade, doesn't have the right entertainment license. At a hearing before the city's liquor commissioner last year the club was ordered closed. It remains open but has thousands of dollars of citations and legal bills on its hands.
Schulter says that his council committee is engaged in a comprehensive streamlining of the city's licenses--one that he hopes will ultimately reduce the number of license categories by about two-thirds, to about 50. A key part of the revisions will ensure that license categories for entertainment venues are better defined. Currently, Schulter says, they make "no sense."
The license that Lounge Ax doesn't have is the PPA, which is for a public place of amusement; traditionally bars with music have gotten by with something called a music and dance license. But the city broadened the PPA license's reach two years ago. "Right now it says if you're over 125-person occupancy and your main reason for doing business is entertainment, you need a PPA license," says Paul Rosenfeld, head of a local entertainment business group. "They're making Lounge Ax get the same license as the United Center." While it's difficult to get confirmation of this from the city, the owners of Lounge Ax say that they've been told zoning restrictions prohibit their Lincoln Avenue location from having a PPA license, putting them in a catch-22 situation.
The law's breadth, agrees Schulter, causes some enforcement problems. "It was gray in nature. Businesses were subject to the whims of the inspectors or law-enforcement agencies that would go out and analyze a business scenario. They'd say, 'According to my own interpretation, you need to have x, y, and z licenses.' No one should have to do business under those sorts of conditions. The rules should be spelled out in terms of what one has to do to open a business with different forms of entertainment. You should know what you have to do to play by the rules."
Schulter would not discuss the particulars of Lounge Ax's case, or of any others. While cautioning that the new system is only in draft form right now, he said he hoped that the reworking would include a grandfather clause to protect existing businesses.
On the infrequent occasions I'm asked to talk to college students, I carefully warn those assembled not to study journalism, and I'm asked what exactly it is that I do. I say that generally I read the Tribune and Sun-Times, write about what they don't, and call it a scoop. In the process I am able to second-guess people who have neither the time, the space, nor the inclination to reciprocate. This is basically the equivalent of coming down after the battle to shoot the wounded, and it is nice work if you can get it, especially given the wonderfulness of Chicago and the latitude the Reader gives its writers.
The latitude I took and the opinions I expressed within it were frequently decried, often by letter writers and sometimes by colleagues. It is these people I wish to acknowledge and thank as I end seven or so years at the paper and three and a half writing Hitsville. On one level or another, pro or con, they share an intense interest in culture and the urge to argue about it. Much thinking about journalism, to me, is based on a misapprehension of the mission of a writer, which is less to provide coverage and more to engage people's thinking. I don't mean to sound flip about this, but any sort of reaction--positive or negative, in person or by mail or E-mail--to me has represented over the years a small vote of confidence. I'd also like to thank everyone at the paper I've had the enjoyment of working with, and particularly Bob Roth, Mike Lenehan, and Alison True for being tolerant, in fits and starts. After the first of the month I'll be available at the San Francisco Weekly, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107. My E-mail addresses will remain email@example.com and wwwyman@ aol.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Randy Tunnell.