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For Struggling Innertown Pub, Temporary Beer Garden Would Be A ‘Lifeline’ — But City Won’t Issue Permit, Owner Says

The city's Liquor Commission asked Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) to decide on whether to grant the pub a permit — but he punted the decision to a neighborhood group. Meanwhile, Innertown's staff has been laid off again.

Innertown Pub opened at 1935 W. Thomas St. in 1983.
Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago
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EAST UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Innertown Pub, one of Chicago’s few remaining family-owned dive bars, hopes to open a temporary backyard patio in order to survive the COVID-19 pandemic — but the city has yet to give the bar the green light, and the bar’s owner’s are asking customers for help.

Nestled in the tree-lined streets of East Ukrainian Village between Augusta Boulevard and Division Street, Innertown Pub applied more than six weeks ago for an Extended Outdoor Patio permit to turn its parking lot at 1935 W. Thomas St. into a fenced-in beer garden.

Innertown Pub received a permit on July 7, but it was revoked days later, bar owner Denis Fogarty said. The bar has been in Fogarty’s family since 1983.

A temporary patio would be a “lifeline” for the dive bar, Fogarty said. The bar operated at 25 percent capacity for just two weeks before Mayor Lori Lightfoot tightened restrictions, closing down bars that do not serve food completely.

“Every week counts,” Fogarty said. “No one has a crystal ball here. I don’t know how long it’s gonna be. I’d like to say we’re gonna reopen. It leaves our future in doubt.”

Fogarty said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and neighborhood leaders are slowing down a process that would help his business stay afloat during a pandemic — and nearly 700 people signed a petition started by the bar asking the alderman and city to help Innertown.

Credit: Brandon Pool / Provided
A temporary patio is ready to open at Innertown Pub, 1935 W. Thomas St. — but first the bar needs a permit.

Hopkins is seeking community feedback before taking a stance on the permit, a 2nd Ward staffer said Thursday. He is asking neighbors to email his office or participate in a virtual community meeting on Monday via Zoom.

If allowed to open, Innertown’s patio will include six socially distanced picnic tables, a gravel floor and bamboo sound barriers that will be attached to fencing. It will back up to the residential alley between the bar and the neighboring homes.

Given the proximity to neighbors, Fogarty said he plans to close the patio at 10 p.m. — even though city rules would allow him to stay open until 11 p.m.

Bar manager and Ukrainian Village neighbor Brandon Pool has worked at Innertown since 2002. In preparation for the patio, he hand-built the picnic tables and shoveled gravel. He hopes neighbors encourage Hopkins to grant the bar the permit.

“For a lot of people this is an important part of Chicago culture they’re not ready to let go of,” Pool said.

Outdoor dining has been a much-needed boon for many restaurants unable to serve customers inside for months. But businesses still waiting on permits to participate in outdoor service programs say the city needs to speed things up if it wants small businesses to survive.

RELATED: Outdoor Dining Has Helped Hundreds Of Chicago Restaurants, But Others Still Waiting On Permits: ‘Winter Will Be Here Soon Enough’

Credit: Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago
Innertown Pub opened at 1935 W. Thomas St. in 1983.

Isaac Reichman, spokesman for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said earlier this week the city had approved 118 permits, allowing many businesses to benefit from expanded outdoor dining since the program launched.

The permits are reviewed by the business, transportation and cultural affairs and special events departments, according to Reichman.

We “evaluate each application to determine feasibility and work with applicants to ensure that outdoor permits do not lead to public safety, health or nuisance issues,” Reichman said. “This program has delivered critical outdoor options quickly, safely and at a scale larger than many other cities.”

Not every business that applies for a permit automatically gets one.

In the case of Innertown Pub, the Liquor Commission initially flagged the application because of the bar’s “unique” zoning, a staffer for Hopkins said.

Like many Chicago dive bars, Innertown Pub was grandfathered in to a zoning code that no longer allows bars to exist within dense residential areas.

So the Liquor Commission asked Hopkins to weigh in on the application. Hopkins deferred the issue to community leaders from the East Village Association, some of whom already voted to reject Innertown’s efforts to build a beer garden before the pandemic.

Forgarty said the entire process lacks transparency.

“I feel like we’re being unduly penalized for no reason,” he said. “Nowhere in [the rules] was it stated that I needed to go to local associations to get approval. If anything. … It alludes to removing hurdles to open. I feel the spirit of that ordinance has not been followed in my case.”

Innertown Pub received some Payment Protection Program funds, but the money ran dry after eight weeks. The bar typically has a staff of 10 to 14 people. If allowed to open the patio, Pool said he’ll be able to bring back at least five furloughed staffers.

But for now, Fogarty said he had to let his staff go back on unemployment.

Founded in 1982, the East Village Association is a neighborhood group bounded by Division Street to the North, Chicago Avenue to the South, Ashland Avenue to the East and Damen Avenue to the West. 

While not formally associated with the city, neighborhood groups like EVA frequently weigh in on matters of public importance and inform aldermen of community input.

In January, the EVA voted to not support Fogarty’s request for a zoning change to the Innertown Pub property to allow for a beer garden.

In early July, after a neighbor saw the bar building out the patio, EVA board member Neal McKnight said he reached out to Fogarty’s attorney ask for information about the bar’s plans. He never heard back.

The group isn’t outright opposed to the bar’s temporary permit and refutes the narrative that it’s “anti-business,” McKnight said.

“Wouldn’t a simple thing have been to tell us, ‘I’m applying under emergency permit.’ That’s part of being a good neighbor,” he said. “In the meantime it’s not OK to just ghost your neighbors and then pretend that they’re the bad guys.”

Details for the Zoom meeting on Monday will be posted to the EVA’s Facebook page.

Those who cannot attend the virtual meeting should share feedback with both the EVA and Hopkins by emailing info@eastvillagechicago.org and Ward02@cityofchicago.org.

Jake Wittich contributed to this report.

Read all of Block Club’s coverage on outdoor dining here.

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