Hyde Park Liquor Licensing: Why This is a Big Deal

You've probably noticed the relative dearth of bars in Hyde Park. And you may have wondered why this is -- why can I, an able-bodied adult, get a beer at approximately 3 places only, and why are these places scattered about the neighborhood? Do I really need a MEMBERSHIP to get in? Is that even LEGAL?

You may, too, have seen the signs -- official-looking, with a hint of the unsavory. Public notices that look a little bit like condemnations. Walgreen's at 55th and Lake Park has been sporting one of these signs for a few weeks, so let's use this contemporary example as an illustration for the challenges a new or existing business might face in securing a liquor license.

#1: Zoning. The property has to be appropriately zoned (meaning there can't be any City of Chicago funny business: you can't be a business with an address that doesn't officially "exist," for example).

#2: Distance from schools: You can't be within 100 feet of a school. Sounds simple enough, until you realize just how many schools are in this neighborhood.

#3: You have to apply for your license from the CITY. Now, if you're a Chicagoan (or if you've seen us on tv), you know that Chicago is a city made by its Alderpeople. And so you know that when I say you must apply for your license from the city, it's really important to have the support of your Alderman.

And here's where the trick comes in: the Aldermen know their wards. In many cases, they have resided in their wards for a looong time. And so, when you hear that 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns is resistant to supporting the liquor license application of Lake Park Walgreen's, though your first response may be snide, you should take a breath, slow your roll. You may be thinking it's phooey, that you'd love to be able to pick up a bottle of Sutter Home White Zin at the same time you're grabbing Sudafed (fun weekend you've got planned, huh?).

But here's the thing: We have a neighborhood to protect. The thought that goes into planning decisions like this is complex. For example: you can definitely buy liquor at Treasure Island (though, for the record, if you're planning on making a go of the allergy aisle, I'd stay away from alcohol altogether). And Walgreen's is a peculiar establishment. The kind of establishment that needs, maybe more than your average retail establishment, a strategic plan for staying, shall we say, wholesome. A liquor license at a 24-hour store means any schmo can walk in and buy another six-pack until 2 am. Another interesting note? The Walgreens on 55th used to sell liquor, and Toni Preckwinkle (then Alderwoman) worked with the city to revoke said license.

I'm not putting this out there as a rally to write the Alderman's office and express your opposition to a liquor license for this Walgreen's (though if you're against it, you definitely should) -- I'm sharing all this as an illustration. I think it's fascinating to consider all the behind-the-scenes considerations and negotiations that have to take place to preserve the integrity of this neighborhood while at the same time ensuring we make the type of cultural, social, and economic progress that will plunge Hyde Park into its future as a destination for Chicagoans new and old alike.

Alright. Got a little soapboxy there. I'll be sure the next post is about something light -- maybe not as light as my kid's birthday party decor, but I'll search for a middle ground. Secret running routes anyone?

Til then: thanks for reading!

Filed under: Hyde Park News


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  • actually, i'm pretty sure that the walgreens stopped selling liquor because walgreens itself stopped selling liquor in all of its stores in the entire chicago/nwi area several years ago (i can't say if they did the same thing anywhere else). only within the last year or so have stores in some areas started selling beer & wine again. and even when it did have a liquor section, i'm almost positive it was never open until 2am (i don't think the store was even 24 hours then).

    also, hyde park has been a finicky neighborhood with regard to liquor licenses for a long time, with several 'suspected' culprits, including u of c (i say suspected because i can't verify the rumblings that i've heard over the years). i do know that some restaurants, particularly on the south side of 55th st, haven't had much success with bar louie and lucky strike (now seven ten) the exceptions, but both are part of national chains.

  • In reply to misterchi:

    Thanks for your perspective, misterchi. I don't know much about Walgreen's business decisions, only that they've recently reapplied for their liquor license and that possessing this license allows them to sell liquor until 2 a.m..

    I think you're absolutely right that HP is a finicky neighborhood regarding liquor licenses -- and I'd argue for good reason. We talk a lot about the relative safety of this neighborhood, and we, as a community, have to be cognizant of the challenges we face given our proximity to neighborhoods that are, frankly, less safe. That means we have to continually evaluate and minimize the risks we take in Hyde Park. Whether it's UC or any other stakeholder, I can't imagine the motivation for scrutinizing applicants is anything other than protective. If this is naivete on my part, don't hesitate to let me know.

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