Council members apprehensive about theater bar idea

<p>Manager, Elvia Jimenez at the bar in the lobby of the AMC Lake in the Hills 12 Theater. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media</p>

Manager, Elvia Jimenez at the bar in the lobby of the AMC Lake in the Hills 12 Theater. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media

Naperville City Council members have a variety of qualms about a proposal to offer adult beverages at the Showplace Theater complex on the city’s southwest side.

Despite assurances from representatives for American Multi-Cinema Inc. that all possible precautions are in place at the 63 AMC theaters that already offer beer, wine and spirits to movie-goers age 21 and older, council members this week were leery of the possibility that underage patrons could be provided with drinks illegally once the lights in the theater go down.

The council held a first reading Tuesday of the corporation’s request for a new class of liquor license that would permit the service of alcohol at the 16-screen Showplace site. Applicant Scott Stipsits, director of food and beverage for AMC, said the feature would help the company “bring back adult movie-goers to theaters,” alluding to many grownups’ preference for imbibing while watching movies in the comfort of home.

It’s the young adults who have council members worried. Councilman Steve Chirico asked how the theater employees would prevent patrons in their early 20s from legally buying drinks and then sharing them with companions not yet old enough to buy them.

Stipsits said that staff members, all of whom would undergo Naperville’s Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training program, would be on the watch for couples that fit that description, who will often split apart when it’s time to belly up to the bar.

“They’re on your radar,” said Stipsits, emphasizing that all managers are trained to deal with that specific scenario.

He compared the situation to Chicago’s Wrigley Field or Soldier Field, where workers keep an eye out for underage imbibers.

“Except it’s dark,” council member Bob Fieseler said.

The new class of liquor license would be more restrictive than the permit held by the Hollywood Palms Cinema on Route 59, which offers food and cocktails in a theater setting with table service. AMC’s sites with alcohol, Stipsits said, are not restaurant-like.

“It’s termed a bar, only in that we’re serving alcohol. It’s really more of an adult concession stand,” he said.

Former council member Dick Furstenau, who regularly weighs in on matters before the council, noted that Naperville is a kid-friendly town that outlawed smoking in public places and video gambling before anybody else did.

He implored the officials to decline the permit.

“We don’t need this down at the 95th Street theater,” Furstenau said.

The request is scheduled to go before the council for a vote on Feb. 4.