Park district proposing beer, wine sales at Naperville Riverwalk Eatery
Naperville Park District is seeking a liquor license to sell beer and wine at the Riverwalk Eatery, but no one is looking to create a "tavern on the Riverwalk."
Park board President Mike Reilly said the district instead wants to take a "measured approach" to selling cans of beer and single-serve wine at the small building along the Riverwalk near the Millennium Carillon.
"We're not looking to be a tavern on the Riverwalk; we're looking for an amenity that will attract families," Reilly said. "We'll be taking a very conservative approach with serving alcohol at this location."
The park district heard concerns about the idea because of the eatery's proximity to downtown, which saw some violence and a fatal car crash last year, and because of worries that customers could take their beer or wine for a stroll along the shore.
But officials say their plans to make $400,000 of improvements to the establishment, adding an enclosed outdoor patio and upgrading the menu, will address those concerns.
"People will not be able to leave the enclosed premises with alcohol," said Ray McGury, the park district's executive director.
The liquor commission considered the request Thursday after the park district studied how to improve the eatery for about the past year.
McGury said the restaurant has been "underutilized" since he came to the district in 2008, mainly serving as a paddleboat rental hub and a snack shop selling ice cream cones or hot chocolates. But he and Reilly say the eatery's "picturesque" location along the DuPage River gives it the potential to do more, and adding sales of beer and wine could help step up offerings.
"I just think it's an added amenity to enhance people's experience," McGury said.
Alcoholic drinks would be served by an employee who will complete a city-mandated training program called BASSET, or Beverage Alcoholic Sellers and Servers Education Training. The park district would use its own police force to patrol the eatery and would close each night by 10 p.m.
Since it's not a commercial business venture, Reilly said the eatery wouldn't be "pushing drinks," or looking to maximize sales.
"We understand our position in the community. We're going to be very careful to maintain the clean image that the park district has," Reilly said. "We don't want to cause any problems."
The liquor commission will consider the eatery's request again Feb. 12. City Prosecutor Mike DiSanto will explain how the Class T Heritage Society Cultural License, which is held only by the Naperville Heritage Society, could be adjusted to allow beer and wine sales at the Riverwalk Eatery, he said.
Mayor George Pradel, who also is the city's liquor commissioner, said allowing alcohol sales at the eatery is worth considering. The matter could be considered by the city council in February or March.
"Some people think ... it would be not good for people to be walking around drinking on the Riverwalk, and I agree," Pradel said. "But after listening to the park district, I think that there would be nobody walking away from there with any liquor. They would make sure that they control it. I think it could work. But I think the council needs to weigh in on it."
With or without permission to sell alcohol, the park district aims to complete eatery upgrades by Memorial Day so it can seat more people and sell new menu items such as specialty coffees and teas, wraps and appetizers.