Naperville suspends BlackFinn’s late-night liquor license

Downtown Naperville’s BlackFinn American Saloon will be forced to close early for three days, and possibly longer, beginning Friday.

Mayor George Pradel, acting as the city’s liquor commissioner, on Thursday suspended BlackFinn’s late-night liquor permit for seven days in response to four liquor code violations. If no additional violations occur during the first three days, the city will lift the suspension Monday.

Pradel also levied a $1,000 fine against the bar.

The late-night permit allows the establishment to serve alcohol until 1 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. While that permit is suspended, the bar will be forced to close at 11 p.m.

The sanctions come following a nearly two-week investigation into the establishment’s recent violations of four sections of the city’s liquor code. The bar at 16 E. Jefferson Ave. has gained a troublesome reputation after being the scene of several violent fights, including a stabbing last year, and an increasing number of police calls.

Pradel said he specifically targeted the late-night permit because most of the violence and police calls have occurred during those hours.

“There’s going to be a lot of college kids coming home next week and when they see they can’t drink at BlackFinn after 11 p.m., they’re going to go find a new watering hole and they may never return to BlackFinn,” Pradel said. “So I felt this week and those hours would be the best time to hit their coffers and make a point.”

BlackFinn also has agreed to have all its security staff receive local Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training and to install an ID checker in the next 30 days. The bar will install security cameras within a year.

Naperville officials met with BlackFinn representatives on Nov. 5, when bar management admitted to four violations of the city’s liquor code.

City prosecutor Mike DiSanto said two of the violations were related to the failure of the operating manager and another manager to receive mandated alcohol sellers training.

The other violations, he said, were related to inaccuracies on BlackFinn’s liquor license application.

DiSanto said the application falsely said no one in the bar management had any legal issues involving alcohol and that the establishment had never before faced fines or suspensions. BlackFinn’s license was suspended and the bar paid a $1,000 fine in April 2011.

Pradel said the suspension came after police investigated the violations and the city’s legal department reviewed the evidence and drafted a recommendation.

“I believe suspending BlackFinn’s late-night liquor permit is fair and reasonable,” Pradel said in a written statement. “The safety of the downtown is a top priority and I approve of this agreement and find this to be an acceptable solution in this instance.”

The decision comes as the city and police grapple with concerns about late-night safety in downtown Naperville.

“The safety of those persons who visit downtown Naperville is a top priority for the Naperville Police Department,” police Chief Bob Marshall said in a statement. “Our objective is to ensure those who visit have a pleasurable and safe experience. Those who choose to be disruptive, violate our ordinances and liquor codes and ruin the experience for others will be held accountable.”

Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce interim President and CEO Tami Andrew said the chamber and the Downtown Naperville Association support the suspension.

“The city is enforcing regulations that are already on the books and we support that,” Andrew said. “These sanctions are a good starting point so now we have to let the process work. If it doesn’t, then maybe we look at a stronger solution.”

Some city council members also weighed in Thursday, despite a memo Pradel sent Wednesday urging them not to comment on the outcome.

Councilman Grant Wehrli, who previously called for BlackFinn to lose its license during the entire week of Nov. 18, called the sanctions weak.

“You can chalk this up as an opportunity lost, by our liquor commissioner, to make a statement against a now two-time offender,” Wehrli said. “I expected more.”

Councilman Steve Chirico, however, called the sanctions a “reasonable resolution.”

“It appears everyone is now working together and that’s what everyone in the downtown wants,” Chirico said. “BlackFinn admitting to the violations was important and sets the tone that they are taking responsibility and moving forward.”

BlackFinn Operations Manager Lenny Skorcz did not respond to requests for comment after the sanctions were announced.

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