Signs on Madison Street remind residents, businesses and visitors to keep the volume down. | Maria Maxham/Editor

In an effort to curb disruptive bar-patron behavior on Madison Street, the village council approved, at an April 26 meeting, cutting bar service back by an hour every day. That means bars will close at 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and at 1 a.m. all other nights.

The temporary amendment is effective until Dec. 31, 2021, and, according to the ordinance, was done “to reasonably and necessarily respond to and address the increasingly frequent events of overcrowding, public disturbances and nuisance activities related to late hour drinking establishments.”

Mayor Rory Hoskins mentioned recent occurrences on Madison Street that prompted the ordinance, including an April 18 incident during which two police officers were assaulted by a man they were removing from a bar and, according to the police report, berated by a crowd which gathered to watch. That incident required response from not only Forest Park police but units from neighboring towns as well.

“I would suggest to you that when we have a scene with Forest Park police vehicles and River Forest police vehicles and Oak Park police vehicles, it’s not a good look for Madison Street,” Hoskins said. He added later: “It’s just getting very unruly,” mentioning people shouting profanities and complaining about getting tickets for public consumption of alcohol. “I think you can reasonably conclude that as the night goes on, unfortunately, people sometimes get more and more intoxicated. And that’s when some of the worst behavior begins with late night bar fights.”

Recently, the village began blocking off Burkhardt Court on weekend nights to avoid what Hoskins called “tailgating” there, and the village has been considering hiring extra part-time police officers to help deal with bar patrons on Madison Street.

The motion to cut back bar service by an hour passed four to one, with commissioner Dan Novak voting against it and commissioner Jessica Voogd casting a vote in favor but saying it “feels a bit like theater” to roll back bar hours if the real issues aren’t going to be addressed.

“If you’re closing one hour early, is it going to change? I mean, are folks going to be quiet?” Voogd asked during the meeting. “We absolutely have to do it,” she said, referring to passing the ordinance. But she questioned whether it would get to the heart of the issue, and she said she has outstanding questions about why an A1 license was issued to “such a large bar” as the Forest Park Tap at Madison and Circle rather than an A license, which requires that at least half of its gross annual sales be from food. Voogd referenced the shift in attitude the village government has had in past years to creating a family-friendly Madison Street and an unwritten understanding that stand-alone pub licenses (A1) would be avoided in favor of A licenses, which come with the food requirement.

“I will support this,” said Voogd of the ordinance, “although I think some of the bigger issues aren’t answered yet. And I really hope that we’re going to take the time to figure that out.”

Novak, who voted against the ordinance, said he felt like pulling back the bar hours was reactionary and that he wasn’t sure the “homework” to support it had been done.

“I just hope every business had a seat at the table in a conversation on how this would affect them,” Novak said. He added: “I honestly believe we’re reacting to some issues and some various establishments … We’re just reacting in a full-blown broad stroke paint, not knowing what one o’clock will do. Again, did we throw a dart and get one o’clock?”

Hoskins said during the meeting that over the past few weeks, village staff has talked to bar owners, restaurant owners and residents.

“Some people have asked us to close down the bars as early as midnight,” Hoskins said. “Okay, that that would harm the bars, as far as I can tell, or based on conversations with certain bar owners. But a majority of the bar owners who I spoke to were in favor of the measure that’s before you.”

Not all bar owners were part of the conversation prior to the meeting, however. In public comment read at the beginning of the meeting, a letter from several bar owners in town was presented to the council. Signed by Marty and Lynn Sorice (owner of several bars in town, including Blueberry Hill and Carole’s), Matt Sullivan (Doc Ryan’s), Jim Buckley (Mugsy’s) and Chris Fleming (Slainte), the letter appealed to the village council, asking that bar owners be included in decisions about operating hours.

“We are asking that before you take this action, that you please meet with us,” reads the letter. “We are obviously aware that we are going to have to make some changes to our business models to make what has worked in the past work again. We would first like to hear your concerns and then give our list of ideas. We have some very solid ones.”

The letter outlined steps some of the bars have already taken to help cut down on misbehavior of patrons in public spaces, such as increasing security, avoiding serving drinks in glasses (to avoid people leaving the bar with plastic cups), and instituting an earlier “last call.”

“Closing us earlier is not going to ameliorate the issues our neighbors are concerned with,” states the letter. “We propose that we work out a list of workable ideas with our village and then have our village leaders mediate a meeting with our neighbors. We are businesspeople, we operate legitimate businesses. Bottom line is that we don’t want to live and operate in a disharmonious community. Will you please work with us towards being a more unified community?”

During the meeting, Commissioners Ryan Nero and Joe Byrnes spoke strongly in favor of the ordinance, their comments eliciting applause from residents and business owners in attendance.

“What is happening on Madison Street is deplorable,” Nero said in an impassioned speech. “…The garbage in the streets, the open liquor bottles in front of my house and up and down Madison Street is disgusting. Public urination, vomiting, disrespect to our police officers is outrageous … And the fact that we have to deploy additional resources to help manage this out-of-control situation is upsetting. It’s additional risk that we don’t need to take.”

Byrnes, a long-time Forest Park police officer before his retirement, also shared his opinion, which was strongly in favor of the ordinance. As a resident on the south side of town, he said police needing to send all units to Madison Street leaves the rest of the town unprotected. “There’s nobody patrolling my area because some lunatics up on Madison want to get out in the middle of the street and have a party,” Byrnes said.

He also recommended making people pay for parking and for tickets when they don’t.

“If [bar patrons] want to cause the problems and they want to go to these places, they’re going to have to pay for it,” said Byrnes.

Currently, paid parking on Madison Street and in municipal lots is required only until 8 p.m., a decision made by the council in Feb. 2020 after the original midnight cut-off, voted on the previous month, caused complaints from businesses and residents.