Extending the closing time for A1 bars, those that don’t serve food, was not on the agenda for the June 14 village council meeting, much to the disappointment of tavern owners and employees who spoke out during public comment. Although Village Administrator Moses Amidei and Mayor Rory Hoskins made no promises at the ad hoc bar committee meeting on June 3, it seemed like an extension of bar hours might make it to the council agenda.
And in fact, two other suggestions from the committee did make it onto the June 14 agenda: changes to amusement licenses and the immediate closing out of a liquor license upon closing of a bar or restaurant. But no changes were made to the hours.
During the June 3 committee meeting, no members present were opposed to lengthening hours for A1 license holders, and suggestions ranged from Art Sundry’s proposal of closing at midnight every night to Connie Brown and Joe Sullivan in favor of 2 a.m. on weekends and 1 a.m. on weekdays.
“We understand and hear the differences of opinion on bar hours,” Village Administrator Moses Amidei said to the committee on June 3. He added that a conversation between himself, the police chief and village staff will allow them to come up with a recommendation based on everyone’s input.
Beginning on June 16, category A liquor license holders, whose revenue is at least 50 percent from the sale of food in their establishments, were allowed to go back to the amended bar hours of 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, but A1 taverns that don’t sell food are still, according to ordinance, required to close at 11 p.m. every night until Labor Day, unless the village council has before it and votes on a change to that ordinance.
Public comment at the June 14 village council meeting was once more flooded with bar owners and employees, pleading with the village to consider the impact the early closing has had on their businesses. At least 11 bar owners, employees and residents spoke out against the prolonged early closure. One resident wrote a letter in favor of the early closings and how they’ve reduced noise and litter significantly.
Colin Jackson, who identified himself as a resident and manager of two bars in town, questioned the logic and fairness of bars being punished for things people do on the streets, such as drinking in their cars.
“How far from a bar does someone have to be for bars not to be responsible?” he asked.
Jackson also brought up race, saying that it looks to him like the bars allowed to enjoy longer hours, those with the A licenses, have mostly white clientele, while those still forced to close early are more likely to have Black clientele.
Addressing the commissioners, Jackson, who is Black, said, “Is it a coincidence that every place that will be allowed to go back to normal hours after today, the vast majority of people look like you, and every place that has the vast majority of people that look like me will be closed? This whole situation makes me ashamed to say that I even live in this town.”
Chris Buckley, who manages Mugsy’s, said the 11 p.m. closing time has been extremely detrimental to business.
“You’re killing us,” Buckley said. “It’s not slowly; it’s quickly. We’re going down like a sinking ship, man. I mean, we need help at this point, and this 11 o’clock close is devastating to us.”
Several employees and bar owners pleaded with the village council for more direction, for specifics on what they could do to bring about longer hours again.
“Tell us what you need,” said April Reed, a Mugsy’s employee who said her income has been reduced to a third of what it was prior to the early closure being instituted.
Lynn Sorice, who along with her husband Marty, owns several bars in town said, “We’re willing to do anything you want, but you’re not telling us what you want.”
Marty Sorice took it a step farther, saying he wants to know once and for all if village administration even wants the bars around anymore.
“What I want to know now is … do you want us in Forest Park or not? And if so, I want you to validate that we are honorable and that we’re wanted businesses.” If not, he said, it would be “painful,” but he like many other bars cannot continue to lose money and he would consider closing his doors and reopening elsewhere.
Duffy’s owner Joe Sullivan, who was part of the ad hoc committee that met twice to put recommendations together for the village council, said it was beginning to look like the committee suggestions were being ignored.
“Not one member of that committee asked that the current ordinance remain in effect,” Sullivan said. “The most conservative request that was submitted was midnight for operating hours. And yet still, here we are closing at 11 p.m. How is this even possible? Was the time spent by the ad hoc committee in vain and for show? It’s really hard to think that it wasn’t at this point.”
Mayor Rory Hoskins addressed the bar closure issue in his report toward the end of the meeting.
“To all the people who spoke during public comment, we hear you. We do,” Hoskins said. “The measure that we took in May was not intended to be punitive. It was intended to protect the street.”
Hoskins referenced police activity on Madison Street prior to the hours being slashed, including the need to seek assistance from other police departments regularly because there were too many incidents occurring for Forest Park alone to keep the peace.
“In the time that we have imposed the 11 o’clock closures, the street is incredibly calm,” Hoskins said. He also said there’s less litter on the street on Sunday mornings.
He recommended bar owners go to Police Chief Tom Aftanas with solutions.
“The police chief is not at all shy about bringing solutions to either the mayor, to the village administrator, to the entire council, when it makes sense to do that, and we’re just not there yet,” Hoskins said.
The commissioners, in interviews, all said they thought the bar owners deserved more communication from the village.
“There needs to be more communication between the leadership of Forest Park and the business owners about where we stand as a council and what facts we’ve received from the ad hoc committee,” Commissioner Ryan Nero said. “We owe them that.”
“Nobody wants the bars to continue to close at 11 p.m. till September,” said Commissioner Jessica Voogd. “My hope is that information is on the mayor’s desk, and he’ll put together a recommendation or share his thoughts.”
Voogd said she thought the mayor would have a concrete update at the meeting, even if it wasn’t up for vote, and was disappointed there wasn’t one.
“I want the solution to be thoughtful and successful, so we don’t have to keep going back and forth with the hours,” Voogd said.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes said he’s unhappy that all the bars are suffering because of problems created by a few.
“We’re punishing a bunch of people for a few places doing it wrong,” Byrnes said. Referencing a recent incident where a patron of Tap Room, 7321 Madison St., walked by bar security with a full bottle of champagne and was caught by police, Byrnes questioned why that didn’t result in at least a weekend closure of the bar, given all the problems they’ve had in the past.
Commissioner Dan Novak said Duffy owner Sullivan’s comments were spot on.