The long-delayed hearing on the status of the Forest Park Tap Room’s liquor license got underway but didn’t quite finish on July 22.
Early during the hearing, Tap Room attorney Mark Johnson said that he couldn’t get several of his witnesses, including bar co-owner Hansel Law, to the hearing. With most of the village’s witnesses and one witness for the Tap Room already there, the two sides agreed to have those witnesses testify and have the other witnesses testify at a later date. Mayor Rory Hoskins, who serves as the Forest Park liquor commissioner, said he didn’t want to drag the matter out for too much longer, and the two sides agreed to resume the hearing on July 26 at 10 a.m.
During the Friday hearing, which lasted about 3.5 hours, Forest Park police officers testified to the pattern of disruptive customer behavior and incidents of customers and co-owners being belligerent toward the police. The village also brought out a police officer from Berwyn to testify about similar issues at Berwyn Tap Room, 6330 16th St., a bar where the Forest Park Tap Room owners have majority ownership. For their part, Tap Room brought out Robert Harrison, a Western Michigan University marketing professor who is a friend of the owners, who testified that he goes to Forest Park Tap Room once or twice a month and hasn’t seen any of the issues the village described.
Forest Park Tap Room, 7321 Madison St., is co-owned by brothers Lance and Hansel Law, who have also co-owned the Berwyn Tap Room since 2019. Since it opened in Forest Park on Oct. 23, 2020, the bar has faced multiple complaints about loud music, fights and violating COVID-19 mitigation limits in place at the time. Those alleged actions resulted in three liquor license suspensions. In August 2021, Hoskins pulled the license after the bar allegedly stayed open past closing, but the The Illinois State Liquor Control Commission overturned it on appeal.
As the Tap Room liquor license came up for renewal in May, Forest Park Police Chief Kevin Gross filed a complaint asking Hoskins not to renew Tap Room’s liquor license. He cited the previous complaints, as well as the brothers allegedly lying to the village on multiple occasions. While the owners said they never had any issues at Berwyn Tap Room, the complaint cited a subsequent Forest Park Review investigation which uncovered numerous police calls and a liquor license suspension in Berwyn to prove otherwise.
The hearing has been postponed multiple times. The June 8 hearing was scrapped after the court reporter took issue with the Review reporter recording the meeting. Since then, the hearing was postponed twice due to witness availability issues and one of the Law brothers getting COVID-19. In the meantime, Tap Room remains open even as its’ liquor license has been in limbo pending the outcome of the hearing.
During the July 22 hearing, village attorney Sharon O’Shea tried to make the case that Forest Park has tried to be helpful, and that the Law brothers haven’t done enough to address the issues. Former village administrator Tim Gillian testified that the village expedited the Tap Rom’s liquor license application and offered to work with the owners directly. Detective Lt. Pete Morrissette, who did the background checks on the brothers as part of the liquor license application process, testified that he gave them tips on addressing common issues bar owners face – a standard practice with all applicants.
Johnson argued that Forest Park had it in for his clients from the beginning, pointing to an e-mail by health and safety director Steve Glinke expressing reservations about allowing a bar when the village has been trying to move away from that aspect of businesses on Madison Street. Gillian said that he encouraged the directors to give their honest opinions and noted that the liquor license application was approved anyway.
Sgt. Dan Pater, who serves on the midnight shift and was involved in the allegations at the center of the unsuccessful attempt to revoke the license, said he has responded to a number of calls about “patrons at the bar after hours, loud music, noise complaints, things like that.”
“Each time, dealing with the Law brothers, the communication has been less than cooperative and pretty argumentative each time,” he said.
Pater said that, when he closed the bar where patrons were allegedly drinking after hours, Hansel Law swore at him. In another instance, when he was responding to a noise complaint, Lance Law “came up saying no one talk to me, and go away, and we’re harassing his business.”
“He seemed extremely agitated that I was anywhere near their business,” Pater said.
Sgt. John Reilly, who also works the midnight shift, recalled a similar confrontation with Lance Law over a separate noise complaint.
“Mr. Law accused me of being racist, that I was picking on the bar because of the racial makeup of owners of the bar and we had nothing better than we do,” he said.
Reilly testified that, while most of the fights happen outside, in his experience, they tend to start inside. And, in response to Johnson’s questioning, said that crowd size alone couldn’t account for the number of complaints.
“Mugsy’s has the most patrons, especially lately. Doc Ryan’s also typically has a large crowd,” Reilly said. “I would say that the majority of calls and complaints are directed at the Forest Park Tap Room.”
Both officers testified that the police officers try to be careful about how much presence they have, since customers tend to respond negatively to police, which only escalated volatile situations.
Johnson questioned whether either officer had any definitive proof that the fights really did start inside and asked whether either of them have seen anyone at the bar encourage law-breaking. Both officers said they didn’t.
Sgt. John Fitzpatrick, who supervises the midnight shift in Berwyn, testified that the Berwyn Tap Room has been cited seven times for serving alcohol after hours, and that they had a total of 107 calls related to the bar, including eight loud noise complaints, 35 reports of fights and disturbances, and five reports of customers with guns.
Harrison, the one witness for the Tap Room, said he knew the brothers, and he goes to the Forest Park Tap Room whenever he is in the area, which is once or twice a month on average. Harrison said that, while he has seen “minor infractions,” he didn’t see the type of behavior the police officers described.
In response to Johnson’s questions, Harrison said the bar patrons tended to be “people of color, which I think might be the issue here.”
“[Forest Park Tap Room is a kind of] place where friends get together, have a few drinks, laugh,” he said. “That’s what I think about when I get there.”