So many supporters turned out for the April 24 Oak Park Board of Health meeting to discuss the question of whether a local bar should be allowed to let dogs through its doors, the meeting had to be moved to a larger room.
Beer Shop owner Tony Compaglia tells Wednesday Journal that “the room was filled and people were spilling out into the hallway.”
Oak Park Health Department Director Mike Charley confirmed that so many people turned out that next month’s meeting, which is scheduled for May 22 at 7 p.m. and is likely to result in a recommendation on the issue, will be held in council chambers.
“It was a great turnout; Beer Shop has a dedicated following,” Charley said. “This is the democratic process. This is how it works.”
Beer Shop, 1026 North Blvd., has allowed patrons to bring their dogs for years, but in January someone complained to the village, prompting the Health Department to put the practice on hold until the health board could discuss the issue. A village ordinance prohibits dogs in any establishment that serves food or drink.
Compaglia is calling on the village to change its policy and allow the dogs back in. He launched an online petition and gathered over 5,600 signatures in support of dogs in the bar prior to the meeting.
“I thought it was a very fair hearing by the board, who I thought approached the idea of allowing dogs in Beer Shop with an open mind, and that was greatly appreciated,” Compaglia said.
Compaglia argues that since Beer Shop only serves beverages – the bar does allow restaurants to deliver food to patrons – it should be exempted from the ordinance.
Dogs have been allowed in bars in other cities, such as London, for years, Compaglia noted, and it has not led to a public health crisis.
He acknowledged that some patrons are surprised to see dogs in the bar when they enter Beer Shop, adding that “99 percent of the time they think it’s really cool.”
Charley said all the testimony at the board meeting was in favor of letting the dogs back in. Some submitted written testimony.
“I love taking my dog to Beer Shop and I think it’s great that Oak Park would have a dog-friendly bar,” Beer Shop patron Dennis Lynch said in a letter to the health board. “I never feel unsafe or that the area is anyway unhealthy because there are dogs inside.”
Another letter from patron Gigi Rowe said the Beer Shop dog policy played a role in her family’s decision to move to Oak Park.
“My family moved to Oak Park from New York in August of 2016, and the idea that we would have a kid and dog friendly hangout within walking distance of our house was a huge plus (and quite honestly did influence our decision to buy a house in Oak Park,” she wrote. “We have been frequent visitors with our dog, Sparky, and it is a family favorite.”
Although public support for the policy change appears overwhelming, it still could be weeks before a decision is made. The next health board meeting is several weeks off, and the recommendation is then sent to the Oak Park Board of Trustees for consideration.
Charley acknowledged that board members are considering how changing the policy could allow similar establishments to permit dogs in. “They haven’t had that specific discussion yet, but I think that’s something they have to consider in the decision,” Charley said.
Charley said he gives Compaglia “tons of credit” for his work on the issue.