Wine bar wins liquor OK

Rethinking liquor philosophy ahead for OP, attorney says

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By DREW CARTER

Oak Park Trustees gave a preliminary thumbs-up Monday night to a wine bar concept that will require a new and unique liquor license to open in the Lake Room space at 728 Lake St.

Village Attorney Ray Heise said The Oak Park Abbey's business proposal did not "contemplate" the requirements of the village's liquor law concerning food as the primary focus of any establishment.

"The service of alcohol in the Oak Park ordinance is driven by the service of food," Heise told the board. He said the Abbey planned a "very nice and quality menu" but that "it is still ancillary to the rest of the business," which might include the sale of wine not to be consumed on the premises.

The Abbey's owner Ellen Bettenhausen plans a small-plate menu, with 10 appetizer dishes and five desserts, all designed to accompany wine and spirits.

But trustees?#34;like liquor control review board members who recommended the business get a liquor license?#34;found that the Abbey would not violate the spirit of the ordinance.

"There's no intention to pursue a beer-and-shot place that happens to serve food," said Tom Powers, Bettenhausen's wine expert and consultant on the venture.

Powers said the concept has been successful in Chicago, but hasn't substantially made its way to the suburbs yet. Part of the concept's success lies in that food costs are greatly reduced with the smaller menu. A full menu would add a 20-percent increase in costs to the operation's bottom line, Powers said.

Heise pulled the liquor license from the agenda of last week's board meeting after reading a Wednesday Journal article on The Abbey's opening. The article prompted his concern that the establishment's focus would be on alcoholic beverages, not food.

Since then he wrote a draft ordinance with narrow definitions designed to allow Bettenhausen to open, but not cause a "seismic shift" in the thinking of the liquor law. The Abbey would receive a "D-11" license, a separate category from most restaurants in the village.

But, Heise believes that seismic shift might lie ahead for the village board. "I think maybe the time has come, yet again, for Oak Park to revisit the philosophy of" the liquor law, Heise said.

Time has been a factor. Bettenhausen, who lives in Palos Hills, had received a preliminary OK from the liquor board, and has a contract to purchase the Lake Room operation from Oak Park restaurateur Spiro Papageorge. Her contract and pending financial arrangements hinge on receiving a liquor license.

With some tweaking, the ordinance will appear before the board next Monday night for approval, as will The Abbey's liquor license. The license will allow The Abbey to serve "wines, sparkling wines, champagnes, premium beers, liqueurs and specialty liqueur coffee drinks" only. Liquor drinks will not be allowed.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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