Should Naperville lift limits on late-night liquor permits?
Late-night permits to sell alcohol beyond 11 p.m. in Naperville are capped -- 19 in downtown and 39 elsewhere -- and when one license holder leaves town or sells the business, the number of permits allowed automatically drops by one.
Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Steve Chirico said such regulations lead to a lot of work for bar and restaurant operators who have to petition the commission and the city council if they want to sell drinks until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
"If we can create a process that's less burdensome for our businesses, we should at least consider that," Chirico said.
Liquor commissioners recently discussed the pros and cons of the cap on late-night permits and the fact the cap automatically decreases when any current license is suspended, revoked or not renewed. But they took no action during the first meeting of the commission under Chirico's leadership.
Instead, they left the caps in place but voted to unanimously recommend city council approval of four applications for late-night liquor-selling rights. The applications came from the following restaurants, all of which are outside downtown:
• Pepe's Mexican Restaurant at 1270 Chicago Ave. Pepe's is changing ownership, City Prosecutor Kavita Athanikar said, so it must reapply to keep its late-night permit.
• Star Cinema Grill, formerly known as Hollywood Palms, at 352 S. Route 59. Hollywood Palms was sold to Texas-based Star Cinema Grill after tax evasion charges were filed against its previous owner, Ted Bulthaup, so the new owners must apply for a new late-night permit.
• Draft Picks, formerly known as Rancheros, at 523 Fairway Drive near the Route 59 construction zone. Rancheros closed, but the same owners plan to reopen as Draft Picks sports bar. Since the liquor license and late-night permit lapsed, Athanikar said the owners must reapply.
• Uncle Julio's, coming soon to the Freedom Plaza development on the city's north side. As a new restaurant, Uncle Julio's must apply for a liquor license and for the late-night permit cap to be increased.
Both returning members of the liquor commission, Dr. James Ostrenga and Scott Wehrli, said limiting the number of permits to sell alcohol past 11 p.m. helps the city keep control.
"The caps allow us to take a really close look at who is coming to town. That's important for us to evaluate," Wehrli said. "This gives us the ability to cherry-pick the best concepts for Naperville."
While reviewing new businesses is beneficial, Ostrenga said it's the automatic decrease in available permits that might not be working as imagined.
"We've created a monster with the automatic reduction for simple things like changing ownership," Ostrenga said. "It's hard on the staff and the council, too. I think that automatic reduction aspect has not served our purposes."
At a later meeting, the commission could consider increasing the caps on available late-night permits to 25 in the downtown and 45 elsewhere. Chirico said he wants to discuss this idea more so the city isn't needlessly discouraging responsible operators from setting up bars and restaurants.
"If it acts as a filter or deterrent for people who don't have a good business model, then I guess I understand," Chirico said about the late-night permit cap. "If it's just bigger and more complicated government, then I consider that something we should talk about."