At an Aug. 7 liquor hearing, almost all charges were dropped against Patrick Jacknow, owner of Lantern Haus, who was allowed to reopen the bar less than a week after it was closed by the village on July 24.
Jacknow paid $450 in fines related to two incidences of the bar serving liquor after hours. Multiple violations related to social-distancing requirements were dropped.
According to Mayor Rory Hoskins in an interview on Aug. 10, after several conversations with the village attorney, it was unclear whether the village had the authority to enforce COVID restrictions related to social distancing and occupancy. The concern, said Hoskins, was that Jacknow would appeal, opening the village to a lawsuit.
That very issue, however, prompted the attorney and Hoskins to draw up an ordinance related to bar and restaurant COVID-19 guidelines; the ordinance would allow the village to enforce restrictions put in place. However, it was voted down 3-2 at an Aug. 10 village council meeting.
On July 24, Jacknow received a notice of emergency closure from the village of Forest Park. As of 5 p.m. that day, it read, he was “ordered to cease all alcoholic liquor sales.”
The letter, from Mayor Rory Hoskins, who also serves as the liquor commissioner, stated that the emergency closure was due to the following: repeated failure to follow Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) COVID-19 related patron limits; repeated service of alcohol liquor after-hours; and repeated failure to prohibit off-premise consumption.
Two incidents of serving past legal hours were mentioned. The first date was July 4, when the bartender sold alcohol after the midnight cutoff. Cops were called around 12:41 a.m. for a noise complaint. The police report associated with this incident pointed out that the bartender, by his own admission, was intoxicated.
On July 16, a bartender who was celebrating her birthday was caught serving alcohol at 2:05 a.m., just five minutes after the cutoff for a weekend. There were “approximately eight patrons sitting at the bar” consuming drinks, according to the village document.
Jacknow said these were the only two warnings his bar had received in the past 16 months.
But the letter sent to Jacknow telling him he had to close also mentioned that on July 4, 16 and 23, the bar was in violation of IDPH guidelines regarding COVID-19 distancing requirements, including failure to enforce social-distancing requirements of 6 feet and failure to enforce standing capacity limits of 25 percent in the interior of the bar. Other violations included allowing customers to bring their drinks out onto the street; open containers of alcohol aren’t allowed outside of the bar.
The problem with this, said Jacknow, is that at no point was he notified of the social-distancing problems observed in his bar or of the open containers leaving Lantern Haus. Although these issues were mentioned within police reports, no actual citation was given to Jacknow for these violations.
For example, the July 4 police report states that a local citation was issued to the bartender and the bar for serving liquor on the patio after midnight. Within the police report, it is mentioned that customers were bringing drinks out onto Madison Street and that “social-distancing guidelines were not being followed and the location appeared to be a public health concern.” But citations were not issued for the latter two violations.
The village said in the findings document that the social-distancing issues on July 4, 16 and 24 “constituted an imminent danger to the health and welfare of the village of Forest Park.”
“If it was a health emergency,” said Jacknow, “shouldn’t we have been given a copy of the police report or have been notified?”
Jacknow said when he asked how he was supposed to know that had been part of the police report, he was told he could FOIA (obtain through the Freedom of Information Act) the police reports.
But Jacknow said FOIA-ing police reports to see violations seems like a backward approach, and he’d like to see better communication about issues such as these before they were included as part of a liquor license hearing. The letter he received with the findings mentioned “repeated offenses,” but Jacknow said he had only been informed about the two after-hours liquor issues.
At the hearing, which was held on Aug. 7, all the charges were thrown out, said Jacknow, except the two citations about serving after hours. He paid a $450 fine for those two violations.
Jacknow was critical of Hoskins, stating that the mayor “continued to advertise the concept of 50 percent of total capacity as the guideline for occupancy,” which, according to phase 4 reopening guidelines issued by the state, is not how occupancy is determined for bars and restaurants. Phase 4 guidelines from the Illinois Department of Commerce state that, “There is no set capacity cap for restaurants and bars based on percentage of occupancy or number of people during Phase IV. Seated area capacity of restaurants and bars should be determined by arranging seating to provide a minimum of six feet between tables or other designated patron service areas.” Standing areas should be at no more than 25 percent capacity, according to state guidelines.
Lantern Haus is open, and Jacknow said he’s making sure the rules are being followed. He’s not allowing customers to line up outside if there’s not enough space inside to accommodate everyone. The bar will have two bartenders on duty on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, so one can work the bar and one can serve the tables, which are socially distanced. Security will be working the door to ensure customers are following all rules. The bar is also moving back to serving drinks in glasses as opposed to plastic cups to discourage customers from taking their drinks with them when leaving the bar.