In its day, The Pines restaurant on Harrison Street was a lovely spot for a special meal. As time moved on and other restaurant options arrived in town, The Pines became somewhat forgotten, the patrons older and fewer. As The Pines receded, its vamping sister business, the Oak Leaf Lounge came to dominate the Harrison Street experience. And from the viewpoint of residential neighbors that has not been a happy thing.
These days The Pines is shuttered, but the lounge comes to life three nights a week, effectively as a dance club and bar catering to a specific African-American audience.
After a deal to clear the whole site and construct senior citizen housing failed a few years back, the property’s owners have made their money on the dance club. It is a legal use, but for neighbors who have recently petitioned the village, a very annoying use. For the 33 people on the 800 block of Hannah and Thomas who signed their names, the lounge has become a persistent offender of the quiet neighborhood they otherwise love. Late-night noise, loud arguments, racing cars, littered liquor bottles, over-parked streets, and booming car radios are among the bullet points on the letter of complaint sent recently to Mayor Anthony Calderone.
The letter points out that these frustrations date back nine years, though we expect that the arrival of an early spring has quickly brought the late-night angst back to the minds of the neighbors.
We give credit to Calderone and Tim Gillian, the village administrator, for convening a meeting of neighbors, police officials and the bar’s owner. It is always good to talk. The police, who cannot have been surprised by the neighbors’ anger after all the incoming calls the neighbors claim to have made, will need to step up their presence. The owner will need to try and influence his happy audience, a crowd that seems more enthused and rowdy than out of control.
Ultimately, though, there is this: The behavior of the dance crowd on Harrison would not seem so annoying if it were gathering on Madison Street or even Roosevelt Road. But the Oak Leaf Lounge has long been out of place on the residentially focused Harrison Street. Maybe this situation can be ameliorated by good policing. But it can’t solved that way.
The owner of the Oak Leaf has a right to try to make a living. People have a right to dance and have a good time in a legal establishment. Neighbors have reason to think they can get a night’s sleep. But the essential issue is that all of these things are unlikely to happen simultaneously at this location.
While the senior project, as proposed, had real issues – somewhat too large and pushed too fast by developers with a line on state tax credits – the concept was right. The Pines and the Oak Leaf Lounge have to go. And neighbors who actively opposed the senior project will have to make peace with and be involved in shaping what comes next. The village would do well to focus on replacement options for this desirable site – near the park, near the Blue Line, in a neighborhood of good people. But everyone is going to need to be open to compromise to make this long-term solution happen.