Naperville cracks down on BlackFinn Saloon
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 15, 2012 11:52AM
BlackFinn American Saloon in Naperville has reopened after being closed for liquor license violations. | Steve Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 19, 2012 12:39PM
Naperville officials and BlackFinn American Saloon have reached a voluntary agreement on punishments for the restaurant and bar after the downtown establishment was hit with four liquor code violations.
The city initiated a meeting with BlackFinn on Nov. 5, after which an agreement was reached where BlackFinn officials admitted to four violations of the liquor code, city officials said.
The four violations of code were unrelated to any specific incident. Two of them involved the restaurant’s general manager and assistant manager failing to go through the city’s training for servers of alcohol. The other two violations were related to misrepresentations on BlackFinn’s current application for a liquor license. In one instance, the application failed to note a previous license suspension in 2011. The other involved an alcohol-related offense by an employee which was not disclosed on the application.
The new agreement states that the city will suspend BlackFinn’s late-night liquor permit for seven days beginning Nov. 16. That means that BlackFinn will not be able to serve alcohol after 11 p.m. The permit normally allows the sale of liquor up until 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
If no additional liquor code violations occur during the first three days of the suspension, the city will suspend the remaining four days of the punishment.
Staying free of liquor code violations during the first three days will be vital for BlackFinn, since if it has to serve the entire seven-day suspension the punishment would include Nov. 21, so-called “Black Wednesday,” which is one of the busiest days of the year for bars.
“The safety of those persons who visit downtown Naperville is a top priority for the Naperville Police Department,” Police Chief Robert Marshall said. “Our objective is to ensure those who visit have a pleasurable and safe experience. Those who chose to be disruptive, violate our ordinances and liquor codes and ruin the experience for others will be held accountable.”
BlackFinn has also agreed that all of its security staff will receive local Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) and that it will install an ID checker in the next 30 days. BlackFinn will also install security cameras within a year. A $1,000 fine has also been levied.
BlackFinn responded to requests for comment with an email from operating partner Lenny Skorcz.
“The actions that have been portrayed in the media have had little to do with BlackFinn,” read the email. “We are extremely pleased that we have been able to bring the matter of our four technical oversights, which occurred on our liquor license application, to closure with the city of Naperville.”
Skorcz pointed to two recent incidents that he says are not BlackFinn’s fault. The first occurred Oct. 27 outside of the saloon, which involved a fight that continued down the street after police officers originally broke it up. An incident last weekend involved a call to the police to deal with a drunken individual trying to enter the restaurant against management’s wishes.
Mayor, Council opinions
BlackFinn was in the news after a brawl Oct. 27 outside BlackFinn in which a man had to be subdued with a Tazer and four arrests were made.
A man was also recently convicted of wounding a BlackFinn bouncer with a knife in an incident last year.
The new agreement was arrived at following a Police Department investigation. The city’s Legal Department reviewed evidence of liquor code violations and drafted a recommendation for Mayor A. George Pradel, as the city’s liquor commissioner, to review and approve.
“I believe suspending BlackFinn’s late-night liquor permit is fair and reasonable,” Pradel said. “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.”
Some on the City Council think the punishment isn’t strong enough.
Calling the penalty a “slap on the wrist,” Councilman Grant Wehrli said the ruling “was a lost opportunity for the Liquor Commission to send a message to them as to what downtown Naperville’s all about.”
But Wehrli did praise the Naperville Police Department’s efforts to control the problem, saying “Chief (Bob) Marshall is all over it.”
Councilman Doug Krause agreed with Wehrli. He said that the coming Thanksgiving holiday week was crucial to the restaurant’s finances, especially “Black Wednesday.”
“They should have been closed then,” Krause said.
Some Council members, though, thought the punishment was fair.
“I respect the Liquor Commission’s resolution and the mayor as Liquor Commissioner,” Councilman Bob Fieseler said, pointing out that the commission had meetings with the proprietors. “I think it was fair, considering the circumstances.”
Councilman Steve Chirico agreed, noting that if future incidents involving BlackFinn occurred, the city had a public record of steps it had taken to tackle the problem.
Chirico also pointed out that judging BlackFinn’s culpability in some of the incidents could be “pretty subjective” and thought the commission’s decision on the matter was proper.
“I think it was a pretty good agreement,” he said. “They (BlackFinn) are on the same page as the city.”
Pradel said this better be a quiet weekend at BlackFinn if they want to get their late-night permit back.
“If something should happen this weekend ... there would be deep trouble,” he said.
According to Pradel, the punishment sends a message that Naperville will not tolerate liquor violations at downtown bars.
“We’ve layed down the law,” he said.