By Anna Lothson
Oak Park used to be known as the place "where the saloons stop and the churches begin." A quick stroll down Lake Street and you'll see that's changed.
It's about to change again with a shift in the liquor law that will allow alcohol to be served earlier on weekends and holidays.
The turn-of-the-last-century culture shift that made Oak Park a dry town for decades didn't change until the early 1970s. Philander's, which opened in 1979, was the first standup bar since the early prohibitionists shut down the village's drinking establishments. After Philander's, the trend spiraled.
The mid-'80s brought a more casual spot to grab a drink and a meal — Poor Phil's, owned by local legends Dennis Murphy and his wife Bunny (Kathleen).
The hometown restaurant, known for its beer selection and seafood, has a patio that's typically packed on a summer weekend.
The update being passed through the village relates to the time restaurants can begin serving alcohol. Currently, the local ordinance prohibits establishments from serving before 11 a.m., but the village board passed the first motion Monday needed to bump that time back to 9 a.m.
Murphy said the concept of brunch isn't just about going out for family time or on Mother's Day, it's a new pastime that is gaining in popularity — particularly in the city. Murphy said the change will be good for local restaurants who want to bring in a bigger crowd.
"The [11 a.m.] time hasn't prevented us from doing anything," Murphy said, as his loyal customers come whether or not they can have a drink. But he's had a lot of requests from people. "It's just a nice little enhancement."
It also keeps Oak Park's breakfast establishments competitive with neighboring towns like Forest Park, which, according to Murphy, allows alcohol earlier.
"We get the remark a lot," Murphy said about people wanting to have a bloody mary, mimosa, and other alcoholic drinks with their brunch. "But it's not a deal breaker."
The time change was on the village board's non-discussion portion of the agenda and was passed without question. Procedurally, it will require one more vote, but soon Murphy and other restaurateurs will be able to satisfy those inquiring customers.
"Let's get with the times here," Murphy said. "Brunch is gaining in popularity. Our market here in Oak Park and close by calls for brunch. It's a routine thing. It's an every-weekend thing."
When officially approved, certain restaurants with the proper liquor license, like Poor Phil's, will be able to serve alcohol at 9 a.m. on weekends, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.