Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hello Again, and a Taste of Chicago Booze Politics

I managed to fall off my blogging post for a couple of weeks again - oops! I have a few fun posts in the hopper now, with more fun events to come, so please bear with me.

And Hello to the folks who came here from Business Week - David Kiley cited Thinking of Drinking as a place to get the scoop on the best watering holes in Chicago - cool, eh?

Chicago (Booze) Politics
Before I get back to cocktails & mixology topics, I have a minor rant about Chicago politics. Early on, we decided not to try and build our distillery in the City of Chicago. Although people seem to just accept it (something about a "benevolent dictatorship"), things are just a little (and sometimes a lot) crooked in Chicago. The Mayor and his legions control many things (check out the Sept issue of Chicago Magazine for details), but zoning and property use are one of the few areas in which the city's aldermen have considerable power. And they use it.

Sometimes it Gets Ugly
My friend Kyle McHugh of The Boozehound is trying to open Drinks Over Dearborn, a boutique spirits, wine and beer shop in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, where he lives. He's just the kind of person to run a store I'd like to shop at - extremely knowledgeable, passionate and unpretentious. He tried to do everything right - he picked a location in a busy commercial area, mapped out his plan, and alerted the community to his plans well in advance. He met with his alderman, and talked specifically with the few residents who had questions about his plan. Everything seemed to be going great, until the very end.

Similar to the experiences of some of his neighbors, Kyle hit a last-minute total roadblock. Apparently, "some of their neighbors have gotten the wrong idea" and have objected to his plan, and the alderman moved to block his city liquor license. Of course, Kyle can't get any details about who objected, or even the nature of the objections. Instead, he's left to wage a broad-based public relations campaign to try and get the alderman & liquor commissioner to change their minds, all the while paying for a store he cannot open (which he has been doing for nearly a year, while working through all the bureaucratic rigamarole).

Just so it's clear, this isn't any run of the mill corner liquor store - it's a small, high-service store where Kyle will carry a very limited range of unique products. This store will attract affluent, discerning customers to the area, all of whom will have to be buzzed into the building - no general entrance. It's in an area with other commercial properties, including several other liquor licenses, many of which attract a less desirable element to the area.

Given the other licenses in the area, maybe some of the residents have a real concern. But rather than fostering a dialogue about them, or at least sharing the nature of the concerns, it's just a "no" from the alderman and liquor commission. This feels like the classic case of the little guy getting caught up in the political machine, and I don't like it.

So I'm writing about it here, hoping to get a few more folks to join the campaign to get Kyle's store open. Visit his website here for information on how you can help!

1 comment:

Kyle McHugh said...

Thanks so much for your concern and helping to let the world (or, at least, the world of your readers) know about our plight. Hopefully things will turn around soon!