LAKEVIEW — Late-night bar Tai’s Til 4 could be forced to close after six decades in Lakeview if neighbors vote the area dry in the election.
According to a letter from Ald. Tom Tunney’s office (44th), a referendum has been placed on the 16th precinct ballot that would prohibit the sale of drinks with an alcohol content above 4 percent at restaurants and bars.
That would effectively shutter Tai’s, 3611 N. Ashland Ave., as most alcoholic drinks served at a standard bar would have higher alcohol content. The referendum would not prevent liquor or grocery stores in the area from selling alcohol in its original packaging.
Tai’s owner, Blake Itagaki, said a group of neighbors pushed for the referendum after years of frustrations about violent crime near the bar. It wasn’t immediately clear which residents spearheaded the effort.
“They’re claiming I’m an absent owner and don’t care about their concerns, but I wouldn’t be here until 4 a.m. every night if that were true,” said Itagaki, whose father opened the bar in 1961.
“I’ve been trying to get the message out there so people don’t vote for this, but there’s a lot of misinformation.”
Neighbors of the 4 a.m. bar blame Tai’s for a fatal shooting involving two customers outside the bar in February, according to Itagaki.
Itagaki said the shooting stemmed between two men who had a history with each other and got into an argument outside the business early Feb. 9.
Bar staff broke the fight up and told them to go home, but one of the men went to his car and returned with a gun. That’s when Itagaki called for police, he said.
According to Chicago Police, the man shot the other customer when officers arrived and took off down the street. Officers chased, and he allegedly fired shots at them.
An officer returned fire, fatally striking the man, police said.
“Basically, the neighbors feel that if the bar wasn’t there, then the shooting wouldn’t have happened,” Itagaki said.
Neighbors of the bar rallied to get the referendum added to the ballot, and sent a letter to registered voters in the precinct, claiming that “altercations in or around the bar are a recurring theme,” Itagaki said.
But Itagaki says the referendum is rooted in misinformation and Tai’s is being blamed for shootings that had nothing to do with the bar, including two shootings outside the Shell gas station across the street that occurred in 2013 and 2014.
In his letter to precinct residents, Tunney backed up Itagaki and stressed there would be “collateral consequences” if the measure passes.
“Voting the precinct dry will put a two-generation family business that’s been here for over sixty years out of business,” Tunney wrote. “I trust you will consider these facts when you decide how to vote on this issue.”
Tunney also said the dry precinct referendum would also prohibit the nearby Jewel grocery store from holding in-store tastings, and prevent any bars or restaurants wanting to serve alcohol from opening in the area.
“Effectively voting the precinct dry will preclude the development of restaurants on the east side of the 3600 block of Ashland or on the west side of the 3600 block of Southport, or anywhere in the precinct for at least four years,” Tunney said.
Tunney’s office did not respond to requests for further comment.
Tai’s has been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and if the ballot measure passes, the 4 a.m. bar likely would close permanently.
“It’s been a trying time as is and now we might not ever get to reopen,” Itagaki said. “Tai’s is my whole livelihood, and we’ve been here for over 60 years without a single strike on our license.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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