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Albany Park

After Racking Up Fines For Operating Without A Liquor License, Nighthawk Asks Fans For Help With GoFundMe

After a year without a liquor license, the popular Albany Park cafe and tavern has racked up thousands in fines and fees. To stay open, they're looking for some help.

Nighthawk at 4744 N. Kimball Ave.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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ALBANY PARK — A popular Albany Park cafe is raising money to cover the fees and fines it racked up by serving alcohol without a proper license for about a year. 

City inspectors stopped by Nighthawk, 4744 N. Kimball Ave. on June 28 to let co-owner Brendan Phillips know the liquor license is on hold, Phillips said. So for the time being, the business can remain open as just a coffee shop from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“In a nutshell, our plight began a little more than a year ago when, and I know this sounds like my dog ate my homework, but our accountant passed away,” Phillips told Block Club. “We got behind in filing our corporate [tax] returns and our license was put on hold.”

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
This sign announcing the loss of the liquor license is currently in the window at Nighthawk.

He and co-owner Howard Windmiller first announced their idea for Nighthawk, a coffee shop and tavern combo at 4744 N. Kimball Ave., back in 2013. After winning support from neighbors, the duo got to work renovating the corner space, getting ready for inspections and applying for their liquor license

After a few setbacks they opened their doors to the public in 2016.

Since it opened, Nighthawk has become known for its noir film screenings like “Murder My Sweet,” offbeat cult hits like “Turkish Spiderman,” episodes of Bob Ross as well as open mic poetry events and stand-up comedy nights.

“All of our promotions people just dig so much. Our … comedy nights just keep getting bigger and bigger,” Phillips said. “We bill it as the best comedy in Albany Park, which is kind of a joke because it’s the only stand-up comedy night in Albany Park. But our host Paige Blair has said it’s become a go-to spot in the city for comedians who want to get on the bill.”

The business was initially granted a liquor license from the the city on July 5, 2016 and then the state liquor commission on June 29, 2017.

However on June 28 of this year, the city issued a closure order to the business for operating as a tavern without the necessary city or state liquor licenses, according to the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Nighthawk’s city liquor license expired on July 15, 2018 and their state liquor license expired on June 30, 2018, according to city and state records. 

“I sat with our new accountant on Friday and got all our corporate returns filed. Now we have to pay for the actual licenses, late fees and penalties,” Phillips said. 

To do this, the team started a “Save The Nighthawk” GoFundMe last Wednesday. As of Tuesday it’s raised $4,450 of its $25,000 goal from 60 people. 

The owners hope they’ll be able to dig themselves out of a “pretty deep financial hole” with some help from neighbors.

When the GoFundMe initially went up, it raised about $2,000 in the first three hours, but the campaign was taken down for 36 hours due to it initially violating the site’s rules.

“We were offering rewards for donations over $500 which we didn’t realize we couldn’t do. But when they initially pulled our GoFundMe down we got an email about it but they didn’t give us a reason,” Phillips said. 

After a few emails back and forth with GoFundMe they modified campaign to follow the rules and it went back online. 

“We chose GoFundMe over some of the other ways to raise money because some of the other fundraising sites, if you don’t raise all of your goal you have to give it back,” he said. “But with GoFundMe no matter what you raise you get to keep it. Believe me, I know it’s tacky to do a GoFundMe for a for-profit business. But the outpouring of support from the community has been amazing.”

Now that the business has a new accountant and has gotten its tax paperwork filed, Nighthawk’s owners say they’re on the right track, but it’s unlikely they’d be able to qualify for a business grant or loan anytime soon.

“We’ve been operating at such a loss we’re not sure banks are going to want to [approve funding]. But my partner and I have been making this joke forever: It’s an incredibly successful place in all ways except financial,” Phillips said. “But that makes it very difficult to get any other kind of financial backing.”

In a video on the fundraising page, Phillips asks fans of Nighthawk to donate in order to keep “this weird, cool, uncommon, special place alive.” 

“We are very proud to be a fixture in Albany Park and we feel and want to continue to bring top quality coffee, craft cocktails and promotions to one of the most diverse zip codes in America,” he said. “I feel like we’re an integral part of what makes the neighborhood unique, keeping all sorts of different people entertained.”

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