Naperville's Wise Boxer '180-degree change' from previous bar
About a year ago, the bar at 16 W. Jefferson Ave. in downtown Naperville was serving a four-day suspension of its late-night liquor permit that made it close at 11 p.m. -- even on the so-called "Black Wednesday" before Thanksgiving.
Now, Wise Boxer Pour House, which replaced BlackFinn American Saloon in that location, plans to be serving meals and craft beers Wednesday on a night that should be bustling, but just as safe as any other, owner Jim Bergeron said.
"I'm very confident we will have a very busy, successful Black Wednesday and not have any problems," Bergeron said.
Wise Boxer Pour House opened May 28, ending the controversial run of BlackFinn, which had been the site of several downtown fights during the past year or so.
Mayor George Pradel, who serves as the city's liquor commissioner and imposed the sanctions on BlackFinn last year, said Bergeron, the same man who owns Jimmy's Grill in downtown Naperville has turned the once-troubled night spot around.
"I think it's taken a 180-degree change," Pradel said. "It's a pleasure to have him there and not really have any concerns rolling in the office about people having fun there."
Since Bergeron, who long has owned the property and previously ran a pizza place and an Italian restaurant there, bought out BlackFinn ownership, there has not been a single fight or violent occurrence, he said.
Police Chief Robert Marshall agreed, saying the change in ownership has brought a much-improved management system.
"We haven't had any serious incidents from the Wise Boxer since it changed ownership," Marshall said.
Strategies the department started last October also have decreased the number of downtown fights. In the first 10 months of 2012, police were called for downtown fights 39 times, but in the first 10 months of this year, Marshall said that number decreased to 31.
Naperville police added extra officers to downtown patrols on weekend nights, doubled the number of security cameras from five to 10 and began working with the Naperville Fire Department to enforce occupancy limits.
"We're very pleased that our plan has worked, has been successful," Marshall said.
Efforts also have resulted in 11 percent fewer calls about potential criminal activity downtown during the first 10 months of this year compared with last year, Marshall said.
At the Wise Boxer, sales have been a little slower than Bergeron expected, but he said he sees "enormous potential" in the three-story restaurant, bar and banquet space.
"It's just getting the people past the perception of what the old place was to get them to try the new place," Bergeron said.
The new place has a menu Bergeron calls "eclectic," with offerings such as braised lamb shank and pan-seared duck. He said the Wise Boxer offers 12 beers consistently on tap while another 11 rotate frequently with the seasonal blends and special batches breweries offer.
The Wise Boxer recently joined the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and Bergeron said he is looking forward to a grand opening. He has ordered a permanent sign for the facade to replace a temporary banner and had a logo designed featuring a side profile of a boxer dog in a navy suit and tie.
A year after the Wise Boxer's predecessor served penalties for liquor code violations, city officials said Bergeron's newest venture brought welcome change.
"He came with a new atmosphere of working toward families and specializing in food and fellowship," Pradel said. "I think he's worked hard to develop a business, and I haven't had any complaints at all out of the Wise Boxer.
Even in the BlackFinn days, Bergeron said the only problem with downtown Naperville night life was a few partyers who got out of control.
"In general, most owner/operators are here all the time and run good, safe operations," Bergeron said. "It truly was a perception problem with a few outliers."