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updated: 1/23/2014 5:27 PM

Naperville weighing liquor license for more movie theaters

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The AMC Showplace 16 theater in Naperville wants to begin selling alcohol, and some city council members seem willing to give it a shot.

Others, however, say they are reluctant to bring booze into the family atmosphere that is a movie theater.

A decision is expected next month, when the council is set to vote on the creation of a new type of liquor license for movie theaters. If the license is created, AMC Showplace 16, at Route 59 and 95th Street, would be able to open a MacGuffin's Bar & Lounge near the concessions area for customers who already have bought movie tickets.

"Offering alcohol to adult patrons stems from an effort to bring back adult moviegoers to the theaters," said Scott Stipsits, who presented AMC's plans to the city council. "We've seen a declining attendance with competitive technology in the industry."

The city already has given a Class B liquor license to Hollywood Palms because that movie theater has a full restaurant and servers bring drinks to guests at their tables. But the new Class V license that could be created for AMC and other movie theaters would not require them to have full kitchens, city officials said.

The bar AMC hopes to create would card every customer to ensure they are 21 or older and bartenders would serve alcohol in clear cups different from those used for nonalcoholic drinks, Stipsits said. Moviegoers would be allowed to bring their beer, wine or mixed drinks into theaters as they already do in 63 AMC locations across the country, including theaters in Lake in the Hills, Mount Prospect, Chicago and Chicago Ridge.

The $2,100 yearly liquor license that could be created for movie theaters would be "more restrictive" than the license given for the past six years to Hollywood Palms, city prosecutor Michael DiSanto said. It would allow theaters to begin selling alcohol no earlier than noon as long as they give wristbands marked with the date to each customer who buys a drink.

Council members said they wondered how AMC would prevent moviegoers of legal drinking age from passing drinks to people younger than 21. Stipsits said staff members are trained to spot such drink-sharing behavior in an environment he likened to a sports arena.

"I think your comparison to a stadium is good, but it's a stadium in the dark," council member Judith Brodhead said. "I think there are certain possibilities for it not going well, but I would be willing also to give it a try."

Council member Steve Chirico said he is on the fence about creating a liquor license for movie theaters and may not support it. Council member Grant Wehrli said the availability of alcohol -- at prices Stipsits said are similar to those charged at sports arenas -- would do little to draw Naperville residents back to movie theaters.

"You're throwing more expense into it, so I don't see it bringing a more adult crowd," Wehrli said.

Police Chief Robert Marshall said he plans to contact other municipalities where AMC runs theaters with bars to see if the drinks have caused any problems.

The city council then is expected to vote on the new liquor license at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, in the municipal center, 400 S. Eagle St.

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