By Dan Haley
Say you want to open a restaurant in Downtown Oak Park. You've worked in town, so you sort of have a feeling for what might fly here. Of course, you get that whole locovore, seasonal, artisanal menu thing going. You've got a great location right at Marion and Lake. And you want to send a subliminal message that this isn't just a latter-day corner grill; it's more of an all-hours spot. Great for dinner. Great for just a drink after a movie.
So you decide to call your restaurant Lake Street Kitchen + Bar. Some people like this. They especially like that plus-sign thing. Contemporary. Even sophisticated, but in a cool customer sort of way. That plus sign is almost as worthy as the unpasteurized cheese you just might put on the menu.
But speaking of subliminal messages, it is time to apply for your liquor license from the Village of Oak Park and your feet get cold. You think you are hearing whispers from village hall that maybe, just maybe, the " Bar" is more hot than cool and so you drop it from the license application and your official village issued moniker is now Lake Street Kitchen, which to my untrained ear, sounds more like a social service agency than a place I want to be spotted in looking dapper.
Hold on, though, now there are voices from village hall with names attached and they are saying, "What happened to ' Bar'? That was the best part. We've got this downtown master plan, and its says we want nightlife, and you were going to be nightlife, and now you sound like turkey with gravy on white bread."
Which brings us to last night, Tuesday, when Rachel Dennis, the owner of the eatery, was scheduled to reappear before the village's Liquor Control Review Board and get the " Bar" reattached to the name. And maybe as soon as a week from now, the village board ought to be signing off on both the license and the name.
Or as Village President David Pope told me Monday when I asked about the naming kerfuffle, "I think we're sort of bipolar on this issue."
I think he's right. There's half of Oak Park that 15 years ago was all atwitter when Dominick's wanted to sell beer and wine. There's the other half of Oak Park that just arrived from Wicker Park, and they'd like a drink — at a bar — and it would be best if the beer had an unpronounceable name.
Asked if village hall might have sent mixed signals, Pope said, "I don't understand what happened. My gut is that someone in village hall said something."
So here we have Village Manager Tom Barwin salivating over attracting a brew pub to Oak Park and one of his minions is using the secret decoder ring to spell out "Nix the ' Bar.' "
A happy ending? Village Clerk Teresa Powell, who is the keeper of the liquor licenses, points out there has never been a prohibition in Oak Park's complex liquor ordinances on using the words "bar" or "lounge" or "tap" as part of a name. She sees the latest confusion as part of "the evolution that is going on in town." Loretta Daly, the village's business liaison, calls the new spot "a great use" that meets the goal of more nightlife.
Time to get the village's long, conflicted liquor history into the history books. Time to make hooch our economic development buddy and late-evening nightcap.