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Chicago Pizzeria's Lawsuit Questions Who Has Liquor License Power

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Chicago pizzeria and beer garden Bottled Blonde first gained notoriety with a page-long dress code outlawing, among a litany of items, "plain white tees, long tees, denim, flannel (not even around one's waist) or zippers on shirts," "Jordans, Nike Air Max or Air Force Ones," or sports jerseys, and "Hawaiian, tie dye, floral, skull prints or anything else obnoxious."

The restaurant/bar/nightclub is now getting headlines for its fight against the city's liquor commission, claiming the revocation of its liquor license contravened state laws, which Bottle Blonde also contends are unconstitutional.

Lost License

City Business Affairs Commissioner Rosa Escareno revoked Bottled Blonde's liquor license last month after a lengthy hearing process. (A process, according to the Chicago Tribune, that was made lengthier due to the arrest of the pizzeria's lawyer in Michigan on drug charges.)

While neighbors complained of Bottled Blonde's negative impact on the neighborhood, the license was ostensibly revoked on the grounds that the restaurant made the majority of its money from alcohol sales. The bar contended that its bottle service fees -- hundreds of dollars paid to reserve tables, bottles of alcohol, and mixers -- don't qualify as liquor sales. But in its lawsuit challenging the revocation, Bottle Blonde attacks the rule-making authority of the liquor commissioner.

Combating the Commissioner

First, the suit claims only Mayor Rahm Emanuel or former city Liquor Commissioner Gregory Steadman, who issued Bottle Blonde its original license, had the authority to revise the rules for how the establishment would operate. "The revised plan of operation is not legally enforceable," according to the lawsuit, "because it was not executed by the local liquor control commissioner, as is required by law."

Additionally, the pizzeria says it can't be responsible for policing off-premises behavior. Chicago's liquor statute allows the commissioner to deny an establishment a license if it "would tend to create a law enforcement problem." Bottled Blonde says that provision requires bars to perform crowd control outside of its property, although they lack the "authority to police the public streets of the City of Chicago."

"The ordinance is unconstitutional on its face, in its entirety and as applied because it calls for Licensee's staff to perform an impossible undertaking i.e. to prevent crimes by exercising police powers," according to the complaint.

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