After three months of delays and over 12 hours of public hearings, Mayor Rory Hoskins, who also serves as Forest Park’s liquor commissioner, on Friday declined to renew the Forest Park Tap Room’s liquor license
Since the bar opened inside the former Healy’s Westside space at 7321 Madison St. in October 2020, it has seen multiple complaints about customer misbehavior and loud noises, as well as violating COVID-19 mitigation guidelines that were in place in 2021. A few days before May 1, when its liquor license was up for renewal, Forest Park Police Chief Ken Gross made a complaint urging Hoskins to deny the request. Hoskins held a two-part hearing on July 22 and July 26, announcing his decision on July 29.
In his decision, the mayor said he was persuaded by the case made Village Attorney Sharon O’Shea, who argued that the bar owners and staff simply could not be trusted, and that Tap Room’s presence on Madison Street was too disruptive to be tolerated. The decision took effect immediately. While Tap Room attorney Mark Johnson declined to comment Friday, throughout the hearing, he made several remarks suggesting that the owners would likely appeal a negative decision.
Hoskins also pointed to the fact that, during the July 26 hearing, both brothers admitted that they only admitted wrongdoing at liquor license suspension hearings because they wanted to open the business as soon as possible rather than because they believed they were guilty.
The fact that Lance Law refused to show identification to a police officer responding to a noise complaint, as well as both brothers swearing at the police, counted against them as well.
Finally, Hoskins said that Healy’s Westside never had the kind of issues Tap Room did.
“The licensees have demonstrated a total disregard for the business community, it’s neighborhood,” he said. “The licensees are not fit individuals to be granted the privilege to renew the liquor license,” said Hoskins.
With his decision, the liquor license lapsed effective immediately. Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz previously told the Review that Law brothers didn’t pay the license renewal fee, and that they wouldn’t owe it to the village if Hoskins ruled against them.
Throughout the hearings, Johnson argued the village had it in for the Tap Room from the beginning, that the employees did everything they could to keep the peace, and that the village couldn’t prove that the alleged misbehavior originated at the bar. O’Shea argued that Tap Room staff simply couldn’t be trusted, catching several contradictions in the testimony. And she raised some instances from Gross’ original complaint of the co-owners, brothers Lance and Hansel Law, allegedly lying to the village.
While the two indicated in the original liquor license application that they were never “arrested for a crime related to decency and/or morality,” a routine background check revealed that Hansel Law was arrested for domestic battery in 2019. The case against him was dismissed after his wife “did not cooperate” with the legal proceedings. During the July 29 hearing, he said that he didn’t think it was worth mentioning because the case was dismissed, but O’Shea pointed to the fact that the application didn’t say anything about the charges.
On March 11, 2021, the brothers met with several village officials, including then-Police Chief Thomas Aftanas, to discuss police calls and possible violations of COVID-19 capacity limits in force at the time. While the brothers indicated that they never had any issues at Berwyn Tap Room, a bar they own two-thirds of, he noted that a subsequent Forest Park Review investigation uncovered numerous police calls and a liquor license suspension to prove otherwise.
William Rivera, Berwyn Tap Room’s third co-owner, who said he had his own issues with the brothers, said its manager informed him that the brothers intended to shift some events booked for the Forest Park Tap Room to the Berwyn location.
“My concern there is that some of the business that’s coming there may cause issues that they would exceed capacity,” he said.
Rivera said that, while he believed that the Law brothers would likely appeal, he hoped that the decision would stick.
“My personal opinion is that it’s good that they shut down in FP and I hope that it stands,” he said. “I’m happy that the Village of Forest Park saw through their friendliness, initial friendliness and saw what kind of business they were trying to run, which was just dishonest and shady.”
Heather White has been attending most hearings. She said that, while she was familiar with Healy’s, she was unaware of any issues with the Tap Room when she tried to book the space for the Oak Park and River Forest High School Class of 1987 reunion, which is scheduled to take place in September.
White said she believed Johnson’s assertion, and she believed that the fact that the Law brothers and most of the Tap Room customers are Black has something to do with it.
“I think they’re being railroaded,” she said.