A large, respectful but frustrated group of southeast Oak Park neighbors gathered on Feb. 1 in the auditorium of Irving School, 1125 S. Cuyler Ave., to listen to and talk with an array of Oak Park police officials led by Chief Shatonya Johnson.
The topic was years of neighbor upset over a succession of bars located at 6319 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Berwyn. Bill O’Neill, a resident of the 1150 block of Cuyler for 30 years, cited challenges going back to 2004 when it first became a nightclub under names ranging from Inclusive to Antonio’s to Krew Rock Lounge and, since 2018, Mike’s Place.
O’Neill cited a range of efforts by neighbors and police to limit parking from Mike’s patrons who often clog residential blocks on Ridgeland, Cuyler, Highland and Harvey late at night and sometimes exit with shouting, drinking, urinating and littering outside Oak Park homes.
In 2022, however, the upset rose rapidly with shooting incidents and brawls over the Memorial Day weekend and on Thanksgiving weekend in the Oak Park neighborhood.
Johnson thanked members of the South East Oak Park Community Organization (SEOPCO) for organizing the community meeting. She said issues related to Mike’s had escalated from being a “nuisance to being a public safety issue. … No one should have to live with the fear of a bullet through their window after a party [at Mike’s].”
Having been at Mike’s Place as recently as Jan. 28-29, Johnson said, “We need to do something we’ve never done before,” explaining that in recent weeks her department has often put officers on the last block of Cuyler, Highland and Harvey during the hours leading to closing time at the bar.
Johnson said her department had written more than 2,000 parking tickets on those blocks in the past year as Mike’s patrons ignored resident only parking restrictions.
“It’s different people every night. They don’t care about a $30 ticket,” said Johnson.
A detailed December memo from the chief to Village Manager Kevin Jackson reported only 36% of those tickets were paid.
Johnson said her department together with other village hall departments are doing a “deep dive while trying to get to the root” of the challenge.
Johnson said her officers have established regular means of communication with the owner of Mike’s, who was present at the Feb. 1 meeting and spoke briefly. Johnson said the bar owner “has been the most responsive” of business owners at that location during her time on the force. “He is trying,” she said.
“I do care. I want to get it cleaned up,” said the bar owner, who declined to provide his last name to a Journal reporter following the meeting. According to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission website, which keeps a database of liquor license holders in the state, the sole owner of Mike’s Place Sports Bar & Grill is Michael Lapinard.
Jeff Eaton, who identified himself as a consultant to Mike’s Place, said, “The root cause is that society is getting more violent.”
Eaton said many of the problems at Mike’s Place “stem from Chicago.” He said that some bars in Chicago attract “the wrong element,” then get shut down “like whack-a-mole” and the issues turn up at establishments like Mike’s Place.
“He is not inviting bad people” to his bar, said Eaton. “We are victims, too.”
Neighbors, including Stacey Hendricks who lives just off Roosevelt Road, said they call Oak Park police regularly. She called the brawl last Thanksgiving “a riot” of 30 to 50 people on her block but said the problem was ongoing.
“There is fighting and screaming all the time,” Hendricks said.
Other neighbors implored the village to begin towing cars off their streets when they violated the parking restrictions, or called for cul-de-sacs to be installed on Cuyler, Highland and Harvey. Johnson said the village was considering all options and still making a plan.
Several neighbors turned their frustration toward Berwyn, the city where Mike’s is located.
“Berwyn has abdicated all responsibility,” said one neighbor.
Johnson said she “had the opportunity to talk to the Berwyn police chief last summer, and he said Berwyn has 18 other bars and that Mike’s is on the edge.”
In the memo to the Oak Park village manager, who was in attendance at the Feb. 1 meeting, Johnson was more direct in her comments regarding Berwyn.
She said a meeting with Berwyn police leaders “did not produce any collaborative enforcement initiatives.” The memo noted that Berwyn police said Mike’s Place is the only African American owned bar in the city and “there are concerns of the perception of over policing their predominantly African American patrons.”
In a closing question, a resident asked Johnson when neighbors would next hear from the department. Johnson said the village government is “looking at all of Roosevelt Road. We are looking at all options.”
However, she declined to be specific on timing and said she did not want to overpromise and then have to back away from those promises.