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Vote-dry referendum could spell the end for Lakeview bar

The fate of a decades-old Lakeview bar renowned for its late-night party scene is in the balance on Tuesday as people who live nearby consider whether to vote the area dry.

Tai’s Til 4, which has been open near the corner of Ashland Avenue and Addison Street since 1961, would no longer be able to sell drinks with an alcohol content above 4% if a majority of ballots cast in one 44th Ward precinct favor a ballot referendum backed by some local residents who blame the bar for an early morning February shooting incident that occurred outside the establishment.

If the referendum passes, it would effectively shutter Tai’s, since nearly all beer and liquor have alcohol by volume that exceeds the 4% threshold.

It’s one of several ballot questions voters around the city face this election season.

A letter sent to registered voters in the precinct by area residents who want the bar closed pointed to the February shooting as merely the latest trouble there. Police said a man was shot outside the bar and then the shooter was fatally shot nearby by officers. Tai’s is the only bar in the precinct.

“Altercations in or around the bar are a recurring theme that members of the community have previously tried to address by calling the police, the Alderman, and the bar owner, but to no avail,” the letter reads in part.

Chicago police investigate a shooting that began with a disturbance outside the bar Tai's Til 4 where an officer shot and killed a man on Feb. 9, 2020, in the 3600 block of North Ashland Avenue in Lakeview.

Chicago police investigate a shooting that began with a disturbance outside the bar Tai's Til 4 where an officer shot and killed a man on Feb. 9, 2020, in the 3600 block of North Ashland Avenue in Lakeview. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

But Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, says the effort to close the bar is unwarranted. The owner of Tai’s was there when the February shooting took place outside the bar and had called police before the violence started, Tunney said. Officers already were on the scene when it happened, he noted.

“This is a family-run establishment that’s operated at the corner of Ashland and Addison for 60 years,” Tunney said. “They did nothing wrong in this case, and they’ve been a well-run establishment for decades. I’ve got Wrigleyville in my ward. I know problem bars. I’m not naive about it. This is not one of those places.”

Tunney also said the dry precinct referendum would have a chilling affect on the retail corridor along Southport Avenue, which has no bars but does have storefronts that could become bars or restaurants. Those types of businesses would not be allowed to have on-premises liquor licenses for at least the next four years if the referendum passes.

And a Jewel grocery store on Southport would be banned from holding in-store tastings. The referendum would not impact to-go liquor licenses, so the Jewel would be able to continue operating its liquor section.

The alderman sent residents in the precinct his own letter, urging them to consider the ramifications of their vote.

“Effectively voting the precinct dry will preclude the development of restaurants on the east side of the 3600 block of Ashland or on the west side of the 3600 block of Southport or anywhere else in the precinct for at least four years,” Tunney’s letter reads in part.

Tai’s has been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. During normal times, it has a license to stay open until 4 a.m. and caters to bar hoppers heading west from around Wrigley Field as well as bar employees getting off work at their own taverns in the area.

Vote-dry referendums are usually successful once they make it to the ballot, though a similar effort failed in 2012 in the Northwest Side’s Galewood neighborhood.

Also on the ballot this election are nonbinding citywide referendum questions asking whether the city should ensure all community areas have access to broadband internet; whether the city should focus on resiliency, equity and diversity when creating a citywide growth plan; and whether the state should restrict the sale or possession of firearms “that have been defined as assault weapons or of magazines that can hold more than a certain number of rounds of ammunition.”

There’s also a referendum question for residents of the Bronzeville neighborhood, asking if a Bronzeville mental health program should be funded using up to $600,000 in property tax money in 2021.

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