Spybar, the long-running dance club in River North, has been closed by the city for failure to have a state liquor license according to city officials. But the state license is just one of the challenges being faced by the late-hours bar at 646 North Franklin.
The forced closure of a well-known bar for failing to have a state liquor license raises new questions about the city’s liquor licensing process.
Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection ordered the club to close on February 23. That same day, Spybar announced on Twitter and Facebook that the evening’s entertainment had been moved to a different venue due to work on the club’s sprinkler system. The posts were removed from the bar’s social media accounts today.
It is not clear when the club last had a valid state liquor license. A search of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission’s website yielded no results for Spybar. Following up on a Wednesday morning email from CWBChicago about the licensing issue, an ILCC representative today said that staff members were trying to find the information.
Also on Spybar’s list of challenges: Its city liquor and public place of amusement licenses expired on February 15 and have yet to be renewed, a source said.
The club also faces the challenge of owing “excessive debt” to the city according to a confidential source within city government. Citing “pending cases,” a city official refused to speak about the amount or nature of the debt owed.
Contacted for comment this week about the closure, licensing issues, alleged debt to the city, and other matters, a club spokesman today emailed, “Spybar will not reopen until Thursday, March 8. We look forward to seeing all our friends next Thursday!!”
Chicago bars must have state and city liquor licenses to operate legally, but there is a disconnect between the city and state agencies that handle the licensing.
In January, a Northwest Side restaurant was found to have operated with a full bar for more than three years without a state liquor license. Thirteen Pins, 4202 West Irving Park Road, did, however, managed to get a city liquor license.
Thirteen Pins’ failure to have state credentials went unnoticed despite being the source of neighborhood complaints to the city and being cited for other city violations.
The lack of a state license at the restaurant came to light after CWBChicago reported that a man who said he owned Thirteen Pins had been swept up in a police methamphetamine bust.
A staff member for Alderman John Arena, whose ward includes Thirteen Pins, said in January that there should be a mechanism in place so cities are informed when state licenses lapse.
Businesses seeking a Chicago liquor license must “attest” to having a state liquor license. But that information is apparently not verified even though the validity of an applicants’ claims could be proven by simply checking the state’s online database.