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Chicago proposal could kill BYOB restaurants and more

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM

Dry precincts would be drier than ever if an ordinance the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety approved Thursday passes the whole council.

“Oh, my God! We would lose about 80 percent of our business,” said Jeannette Dixon, owner of Pizzeria Deepo, 1742 W. 99th, about the proposed ban on the popular practice of BYOB in affected precincts.

In about 12 percent of Chicago, businesses can’t be granted liquor licenses. As of now, however, you can tote a bottle along when you eat out, or host a private party in which you or your licensed caterer bring in alcoholic refreshments. West Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said Thursday that she proposed the change due to concerns over a prospective banquet hall, but her ordinance would affect eateries in dry precincts across the city, as well as other facilities that host parties or rent out space for events, such as hotels, salons and art galleries.

The Museum of Science and Industry may be the largest party spot on the city’s map of dry precincts. Spokesmen for MSI and its foodservice operator, Sodexo, said they could not supply numbers for how much catering business the museum stands to lose if it they can no longer pour wine and cocktails, but trade journals report that more than 900 private events are hosted there annually, at rents of up to $10,000 each before food and drink costs.

Larry Anderson, owner of Tre Kronor restaurant, 3258 W. Foster, reacted forcefully to the news. “Wow! Oh, my God! I can’t believe that!” he said. “I can’t imagine it — or rather I can, because crazy things happen in Chicago,” he said, referring to the City Council’s short-lived ban on foie gras.

Tre Kronor has operated in a dry precinct for more than 20 years. It’s had little competition, Anderson said, and vacant storefronts line the neighborhood, because most restaurateurs prefer to open where they can get a liquor license. To create a vibrant neighborhood, he said, “First you have a couple of cool little restaurants, then come the boutiques.”

At least 50 percent of his weekend patrons bring in their own beer or wine, Anderson said, and more at the holidays. He upgraded Tre Kronor’s outdoor cafe to encourage that business. “I wanted people to say, ‘It’s a beautiful night, let’s grab a bottle of wine and go have dinner at Tre Kronor.’ ”

Dixon’s small pizzeria is one of the few table-service restaurants in largely dry Beverly. “We have never had any problems,” said Dixon, who opened 2 1/2 years ago.

“We get a lot of business because it is a BYOB,” she said, enough to keep her in competition against places on the wet side of Western Avenue. She’s started a petition against the ordinance.

“BYOBs have been more popular than ever in recent years,” said Jean Iversen, author of “BYOB Chicago: Your Guide to Bring-Your-Own-Bottle Restaurants and Wine & Spirits Stores.”. The economy, she said, has made people look for lower-cost ways to dine out.

“There are a lot of people who only go to BYOB restaurants,” Anderson said.

The measure goes before the City Council Oct. 16.

Leah A. Zeldes is a local freelance writer.

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