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updated: 5/16/2011 5:37 PM

Elgin's Red Bar Winery open for business

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Red Bar Winery customers can finally drink wine with their dinner once again, after the Elgin business spent more than two weeks without a liquor license.

But for now, customers will have to bring their own.

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The Elgin Liquor Commission unanimously approved a corkage license for the restaurant and wine bar Monday afternoon with four members present in a special meeting specifically for this purpose. The restaurant will reopen Tuesday.

Jim Canfield, a co-owner of the business, said before he opened in 2009 he wanted a wine bar without a restaurant. But at the Grove Avenue location, Canfield and his wife, Doris, could only get a liquor license by opening a business with a food service.

According to city attorney William Cogley, the city council decided at some point to allow only a certain number of bars and liquor stores in that part of downtown. The limit had been reached before the Canfields applied for their license.

That meant eight extra employees, more money needed to run the business and a foray into an industry the Canfields didn't know as well.

"We are not restaurateurs," Canfield said. "I went in knowing about wine. Neither of us had ever had a restaurant -- or particularly wanted one."

Canfield said they learned from their early mistakes and the restaurant is now profitable, but they have to work their way out of a hole created over the past two years. The business owes a significant amount in back taxes that Canfield is hoping an investor will help him pay off.

As soon as he signs a deal with someone, he can wrap up negotiations with the state for a payment plan that will allow him to renew his state liquor license.

A weeks-long ordeal to get an Elgin license -- which he needed to negotiate with the state -- has left Canfield feeling frustrated and bitter.

"I had to wait three weeks before I could get this hearing," Canfield said, worried that last week would be his business's downfall.

"I just can't understand why they can't do what they need to do to save us."

But on the city side, Mayor David Kaptain -- who serves as chairman of the liquor commission -- struggles with similar frustration.

Kaptain said it was a mistake on Canfield's part that left him without a license and in need of a special meeting of the liquor commission to handle it. That request was not granted in mid-April. When the commission met on May 11 and only approved the renewed license -- but not the corkage license -- commissioners scheduled a special meeting to speed up the process.

"We've done everything we can to help these guys," Kaptain said. "I understand their frustration, but the rules are the rules."

When Red Bar opens Tuesday, customers can come in with their own wine, order food and enjoy their drink. Canfield said people can also come in and make their own wine to drink on site. But a restaurant employee must uncork the bottles, which is what the corkage license allows.

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