Forest Park’s Pioneer Tap will face no punishment related to a hit-and-run crash outside the building in late July that led the village to accuse the bar’s owner of violating its liquor license by failing to operate in a “peaceful and orderly manner.”
Mayor Rory Hoskins, acting in his capacity as the liquor commissioner and as the sole voting member of the village’s liquor commission, announced his ruling at a brief hearing on Oct. 28 at village hall.
Hoskins said the village failed to prove any of the three charges levied against the bar and owner Martin Sorice but still used the occasion to remark on a string of ugly incidents at or near several bars that he said have damaged the village’s reputation.
“Forest Park’s image over the last six to eight months had been marred by several fights that occurred in bars in Forest Park. There have been shootings in Forest Park in the last year that have raised concerns in the community, I think very reasonably,” Hoskins said.
“Forest Park’s image has taken a hit and rumors spread throughout surrounding communities, [which] Forest Park and its businesses depend on for commercial activity and to contribute to this community’s economy.”
The resolution of the charges against Pioneer Tap, 7445 Randolph St., marked the end to the latest confrontation between the village and some local bars in recent months. The village revoked the license of the Forest Park Tap Room in September, temporarily revoked the license belonging to the Lantern Haus — only to end that suspension early when the bar’s owner sued the village in federal court — in August, and an entertainment venue operating as Urban Pioneer Group had its license suspended and was later fined in June. Urban Pioneer Group has since vacated the property it was renting at 7503 Madison St.
“I think what the last few years have taught us is that a small incident can spiral into a large incident,” Hoskins said at Thursday’s hearing.
Pioneer Tap was brought before the commission after an incident late July 30 when someone sped out of the parking lot at the Submarine Tender across from the bar and crashed into another vehicle before leaving the scene.
Witnesses told police at the time that the crash allegedly was spillover from a fight that began inside the bar, and that the driver of the vehicle responsible for the crash was trying to run down a pedestrian before the collision occurred.
That led the village, in a complaint signed by Acting Chief of Police Ken Gross, to accuse the bar and owner Martin Sorice of violating three conditions of its liquor license: failing to maintain the bar in a manner that does not “breach the peace,” failing to employ sufficient security personnel and knowingly permitting fighting on the premises.
Had Hoskins found the bar in violation of any of those conditions, he would have had sole discretion to impose punishment.
In a hearing Oct. 18, Sorice and his attorney, Kenneth Goldin, countered that the bar was fully staffed with multiple security guards working that night, that no fight happened on July 30 — only that one man had thrown a punch but failed to connect — and that bar staff immediately removed the people involved.
At issue, in part, was how quickly police were notified of what had happened, and even in exonerating Sorice on Oct. 28, Hoskins said that he hoped the bar would be more responsive when any unruly conduct is observed in the future.
“In retrospect, this commission wants to point out that it would have been prudent for the licensee to have immediately called the Village of Forest Park Police Department regarding the incident,” Hoskins said.
“Although the village did not meet its burden and the bar will avoid any sanction from the village, this liquor commission hopes that in the future, if any incidents of violence occur, if any incidents where bar managers and staff could even reasonably suspect that violence could occur … that bar staff at Pioneer Tap and any other bar in Forest Park will promptly notify the village authorities so that police can take certain steps to protect the community and the tranquility of Forest Park.”
Sorice, who attended the Oct. 28 hearing, was reticent to comment afterward, only saying “we did not do this” but acknowledging that he understood why the charges had been brought in the first place.
“What they did was reasonable,” Sorice said, “[but] they made a good decision.”