The interior of the Forest Park Tap Room. File photo

The testimony portion of the repeatedly delayed hearing on the status of the Forest Park Tap Room liquor license finally wrapped up on July 26. Mayor Rory Hoskins, who serves as the Forest Park liquor commissioner, will announce his decision on July 29 at 10 a.m.

After multiple delays, the hearing began on July 22, but it was continued to July 26 because most of Tap Room’s witnesses weren’t initially available. During the ensuing hearing, which lasted a little under seven hours, Tap Room attorney Mark Johnson tried to make the case that any disruptive instances that took place outside the bar were out of the staff’s control, and that there was no proof that any of those incidents had anything to do with what happened inside their business. But Village Attorney Sharon O’Shea argued that Tap Room owners’ and employees’ testimony couldn’t be trusted, pointing out several contradictions in their testimony.

Forest Park Tap Room, 7321 Madison St., is co-owned by brothers Lance and Hansel Law. Since opening Oct. 23, 2020, the bar has faced multiple complaints about loud music, fights and violating COVID-19 mitigation limits in place at the time. In August 2021, Hoskins pulled the license after the bar allegedly stayed open past closing, but the Illinois State Liquor Control Commission overturned it on appeal. As the bar’s liquor license came up for renewal in May, police chief Ken Gross filed a complaint asking  Hoskins not to renew it. Since then, the meeting has been rescheduled several times, leaving the liquor license in limbo and the bar open pending Hoskins’ ruling.

The testimony

During the July 26 hearing, the Law brothers, bar manager Anais Cueto and Troy Gawron, whose company handles security at the bar, all insisted that the customers were usually well-behaved and none of the fights that happened on Madison Street started inside the bar. They also said they usher customers out 15 minutes before the 1 a.m. closing time and urge them to leave quietly and not linger.

Both Law brothers insisted that they previously agreed to liquor license suspensions simply because they wanted to reopen the bar as soon as possible, not because they truly believed they were at fault.

“At that time, that was our best option,” Hansel Law said. “Second reason is, I mean, just to be frank, we were fed up with paying attorneys for [responding to] false allegations. It was costing us money at that point.”

Hansel Law testified that Tap Room never called police about any incidents inside the bar. O’Shea pointed to a Feb. 21, 2021 incident when Law did call police in response to a patron bringing a bottle of alcohol into the bar and was behaving erratically. Hansel Law acknowledged that it happened, but claimed that, because the customer was quickly subdued, he didn’t see it as a major issue.

During the June 8 hearing, Kevin Harnett, owner of the adjacent Zimmerman-Harnett Funeral Home, 7319 Madison St., testified that, since the Tap Rom opened, he had to deal with “public urination, vomiting” and people smoking near his business’ door. He said that he tried to reach out to the Law brothers, but nothing came of it. Lance Law insisted that he and his brother tried to reach out to Harnett, but that he didn’t respond.

Much of the testimony revolved around a May 7 incident when customers spilled out onto the street after midnight, walking through traffic and arguing with police officers. Gross showed three videos from three separate sources corroborating police accounts.

Cueto testified that she works most days, including during closing times, but when asked about the incident, she said she didn’t remember it. Lance Law, who testified that he was at the bar “just about every day,” including during evenings, said he wasn’t aware of the incident.

Gawron testified that he is usually at the Tap Room once a week to work on de-escalation techniques with his security team. But Cueto said she never saw such meetings.

In his concluding remarks, Johnson argued that the bar was being unfairly blamed for something it has no control over.

“Now, it appears that everything that goes wrong on Madison Street is now attributed to the Forest Park Tap Room,” he said. “These are adults walking out of the bar. They should be held responsible for their own actions.”

Johnson also floated the idea that racism might be involved.

“I’m hesitant to go here, but… the crowd at the Forest Park Tap Room is mainly African-American,” he said. “And I try to believe that it has no bearing on the attention that it gets. I hope that’s not the case.”

O’Shea argued that the village simply couldn’t trust anyone from the Tap Room.

“It has been shown numerous times that these license holders have not been truthful in their testimony, their employees have not been truthful in their testimony,” she said.

O’Shea also referred to Gross’ earlier testimony that several other bars also have majority-Black clientele, but they don’t have those issues.

“Our police department is there to quell situations, they’re not there to escalate, but it seems like the patrons in Forest Park Tap Room are defiant, they’re boisterous, they want to interact with the police in the negative way, and it’s not conducive to the business district in Forest Park,” she said.

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