The Forest Park Tap Room could find out as early as this week whether it will be allowed by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) to reopen on Madison Street following an appeal of its village-revoked license.
The bar at 7321 Madison St. had a tumultuous 10 months in business, racking up two citations from the village before a third violation on July 31 led Mayor Rory Hoskins, acting in his dual capacity as the village’s liquor commissioner, to revoke the bar’s license, saying at the time that “the license to sell alcohol in the village of Forest Park is a privilege.”
The Tap Room’s license was officially revoked on Aug. 26, but the business filed an appeal with the state oversight board, the ILCC, in September and had its appeal heard via video conference on Dec. 8. The ILCC will hold its monthly board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19, and as of Monday a discussion of the Forest Park Tap Room’s appeal was one of the items on the posted agenda.
Forest Park Tap Room opened in October 2020 and the bar’s attorney, Mark Johnson, told the ILCC that from the beginning the bar had “been the victim of quite a bit of harassment by the village of Forest Park.”
The bar, owned by brothers Lance and Hansel Law, was cited by the village in April and June 2021, serving a suspension in one instance. In its appeal, Johnson said the prior citations came down to a “miscommunication” and that the bar did not fight those allegations “in an effort to garner favor with the local police department and community.” Hoskins, in ultimately deciding to pull the bar’s liquor license, said it was an accumulation of issues that led to his decision, not a single incident.
But it is a single incident that is at the heart of the appeal to the ILCC. Just after closing time on Saturday, July 31, Forest Park Police Sgt. Daniel Pater entered the bar, informed a table of people eating at the table that the bar was closed and ordered all patrons to leave. Several people left the bar at that point and Pater cited the bar’s owners for operating after legal bar hours.
Whether the people who left the bar were, in fact, patrons of the establishment, was at the heart of the Dec. 8 appeal hearing.
Johnson argued that every- one in the bar was an employee and that the one person who had firsthand knowledge of that fact, Hansel Law, testified to their employment status in front of the Forest Park Liquor Commission in August. Johnson chastised Pater for his “assumption” that the people inside the bar were not employees and argued that if the people inside the bar were working at the time, the citation for remaining open beyond authorized hours would be invalid. At the time, bars like Forest Park Tap Room were required to close at midnight.
Attorney Veronica Bonilla-Lopez, representing the village, countered that Pater was under no obligation to ask whether or not the people inside the bar were customers, and the fact that some people left when Pater asked “patrons” to leave was evidence that indeed they were customers and not bar workers.
“None of them stated they were employees, nor was it the sergeant’s obligation to ask them, ‘Oh, wait, are you employees?’” Bonilla-Lopez said. “It was clear that patrons needed to leave. Those individuals left.”
Bonilla-Lopez also said that the sergeant observed at least two people inside the bar who were intoxicated when he arrived. Johnson also disputed that description, saying Pater assumed one woman was intoxicated solely because she was “loud.”
The decision now falls to the ILCC, which is expected to issue a ruling, with a quorum of members present, on Jan. 19. The ruling is not final, however, until a written order is issued, and both parties will have 20 days to appeal that ruling once the written decision is filed.
Forest Park Tap Room was one of several bars cited multiple times by the village during a tumultuous spring and early summer last year, in which several late-night incidents in and around downtown bars prompted the village council to briefly roll back operating hours.
One bar, Pioneer Tap, was cited after a dispute inside the bar spilled over into an incident on the street, but the bar was not disciplined following a hearing in front of the liquor commission late last year. Another bar, Lantern Haus, filed a federal lawsuit against the village after its license was suspended following a fight outside the bar in late July. The bar’s license was reinstated in August after it appealed the village’s suspension to the ILCC.