Nightlife Gets a Wake-up Call
The story is admittedly hazy: one of the parties I couldn't track down and the other was an undercover cop who wasn't available for an interview. But to hear the head of a local bar owners' group tell the tale, the bartender at Berlin that night was "sure he was going to get laid." The customer was a good-looking guy who took an hour or two to flirt and otherwise ingratiate himself. "We'll have a good time," he promised the bartender. "I just need a little coke." The wheedling eventually prompted the bartender to score a little powder, but when he turned it over to his new friend he found out he wasn't going to get lucky that night. The friend was on the narc squad, and Berlin had its liquor license taken away.
Owner Shirley Mooney spent more than a year and a lot of money fighting the license revocation; it was ultimately knocked down to a 14-day closure, which was carried out earlier this month. Berlin, one of the city's premier gay bars, has been in business right next to the Belmont el for 13 years; Mooney's partner, Tim Sullivan, died of AIDS 18 months ago. Like many bar owners who've had run-ins with the city's liquor control department, she won't talk about the experience; but this close call raises questions about the city's zeal in ramming Mayor Daley's Victorian ideals down the throat of the city's cultural scene.
Paul Rosenfeld is the director of a group called CASEO, the Chicago Area Social and Entertainment Organizations. CASEO, Rosenfeld says, has more than 300 members, including most of the city's major rock clubs. His group feels under attack by the city--with good reason if his figures are correct: Rosenfeld says that the number of liquor licenses in Chicago has declined from 8,000 to 6,000 in the last few years due to a number of legal maneuvers. One allows the City Council to designate moratorium areas inside of which the transfer or creation of liquor licenses is stopped. (Also, a good part of Wrigleyville has been down-zoned to effectively stop new liquor licenses as well.) Hitsville doesn't care much about bars per se, and can even sympathize with those who think the city should keep close tabs on them, even if the methods extend to entrapment. But liquor licenses are inextricably tied up with the local live-music business, and any weapon the city uses to crack down on rowdy sports bars can also be used to fuck with music clubs--Lounge Ax, for example, is still extracting itself from a licensing mire created by a malevolent yuppie who moved into the neighborhood and started complaining about noise--and other local institutions like the venerable Berlin.
Rosenfeld says things aren't going to get better. "There's a new law that says you cannot stay open while appealing revocation. In the case of Shirley she would have been closed for over a year. That would have been a death sentence." Another front is the city's ongoing sting operation that tries to entice bars to sell to minors. Rosenfeld hits the city for using "kids with facial hair and in construction outfits."
Winston Mardis, head of the city's liquor control commission, discounts the facial-hair stories--"That's not true, not that I'm aware of"--and otherwise staunchly defends the city's program. "The mayor is concerned that alcohol not be able to be purchased by minors in the city," he says. The sting operation has produced results as word of it has spread. Mardis says the percentage of bars the undercover agents have been able to nail has dropped from over 50 to about 25 percent.
But what about Berlin? The bar is nationally known, participates in a lot of local good works, and seems to be pretty tightly run.
(I once went in with a woman in her late 40s who got carded.) "State law is pretty strict," says Mardis. "It says that the licensees are held liable for the acts of their agents." But should the club be shut down for good for one small infraction?
"It was a controlled substance," he said primly. "He delivered cocaine hand-to-hand to an undercover agent."
Cheryl Trykv, the monologuist and Reader contributor whose talents Hitsville stands humbly in awe of, is going through an ordeal with cancer. She's uninsured. A benefit at Steppenwolf Monday night promises a lot in return for the $25 ticket: food, drink, and a show hosted by Paula Killen and 'BEZ's Ira Glass, featuring David Sedaris, Jellyeye, Lisa Buscani, Betty's Mouth, Brigid Murphy, Liz Phair, and many others, all on the theater's main stage.Doors open at 6....New City cartoonist Chris Ware has a very funny full-page-plus cartoon in the Oscars issue of Entertainment Weekly....Friday is the band submission deadline for the Independent Label Festival, scheduled July 26 and 27 at Columbia College. The fest wants music, a press kit, a $7 fee, and contact info. Call 341-9112 for details....No Depression, the quarterly zine devoted to new country artists, has greatly expanded--to 64 pages--for its third issue; it's available at many local record stores or by mail for $5--$12 for a year's subscription--at PO Box 31332, Seattle, WA 98103....The Smashing Pumpkins have three singles ("Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "1979," and "Zero") on Billboard's modern rock top 40. On the same chart is Stabbing Westward's "What Do I Have to Do?" and "Everything Falls Apart" from Dog's Eye View, led by former Chicagoan Peter Stewart....Triple Fast Action's record-release party for the nifty Broadcaster is April 5 at Thurston's....Cheap Trick mania looms with both a tribute album in the works at Revolution (formerly Giant) records and a three-CD box set tentatively slated for August release on Sony/Legacy.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Barreras.