BURNSIDE — A 92nd Street neighbor used to hear crickets chirping when she stepped outside weekend nights, the natural sounds of a “nice and quiet neighborhood.”
These days, she hears intoxicated people fighting, loud music blasting from cars and occasional gunshots. People urinate on and near neighbors’ homes, women dance on top of cars at 2 a.m. and strangers defecate in her neighbors’ alleys, she said.
The ruckus, she and other Southeast Side residents say, is caused by the patrons at Nipsey’s Restaurant & Lounge, 9156 S. Stony Island Ave. The restaurant has only been open one year, but neighbors said it is “a bar disguised as an eatery” and the disruption started quickly after it opened.
One of the entrepreneurs behind Nipsey’s, Teddy Gilmore, had two previous businesses he was involved in shut down because of similar issues. Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said she knew that history, but tried to give Nipsey’s a chance after the owners reassured her it would be only a restaurant.
Now, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has cited Nipsey’s for violating the terms of its business license and launched disciplinary hearings against its owners. Some neighbors said it’s time for Nipsey’s to close, and Harris said she’s given the owners multiple chances to operate responsibly.
Gilmore couldn’t be reached for comment. In public posts, he has accused Harris and local officials of unfairly targeting the business.
“Every Friday and Saturday, we hold our breaths,” said the 92nd Street resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “I’m just so angry. I don’t know what’s going on, but we are all taxpayers. We want Nipsey’s to respect us as homeowners. We don’t feel respected.”
‘They Use The Bathroom On The Side Of The House’
Nipsey’s opened in November 2020, named after a fictional neighborhood bar portrayed in the sitcom “Martin.” At the time, the executive chef described it as a place where people could come to visit and “feel like they’re a family.”
Neighbors said Nipsey’s is anything but family-friendly.
The restaurant — which stays open until 2 a.m. Fridays and 3 a.m. Saturdays — draws a young, late-night crowd, some neighbors said. And when Nipsey’s closes its doors for the night, patrons overflow into the community.
Another neighbor who asked to remain anonymous said residents are “humiliated and tired.”
“They use the bathroom on the side of the house,” she said. “They smoke, leaving whiskey bottles and all of that on the side of the house. There’s trash everywhere. It’s just getting to be a nuisance now. It’s not making any sense.”
One night, the resident on 92nd Street looked out her bathroom window and saw two women urinating near her home, she said.
“I heard things like grass crunching,” she said. “I look out the window and two girls, I scared them. I asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ They pulled up their pants and they took off running.”
The lack of parking spaces also has been a problem.
When the Nipsey’s lot is full, patrons park on side streets, sometimes leaving their cars in residents’ driveways. One neighbor said she makes sure she’s home by 9 p.m. weekends to save her space, she said. Others accept the inevitable, hiking blocks on the weekend to reach their homes.
One month after the restaurant opened, a neighbor circulated a petition asking Harris to intervene and demanding the owner do more to keep patrons off the residential streets; everyone on the block signed it.
Despite neighbors’ protests, business continued as normal.
“I’m so scared that a bullet is going to come through my window one day,” one neighbor said. “… I think about that every Friday and Saturday. It’s very scary.”
‘I Can’t Have Businesses That Put My Residents In Harm’s Way’
Gilmore, managing partner at Eat & Drink Too, is the person most residents associate with the business. But city records show he does not own Nipsey’s.
Nipsey’s business license is listed under Dina Porter. Neighbors said they weren’t familiar with that name, and attempts to reach Porter for comment were unsuccessful.
At least two businesses connected with Gilmore have run afoul of city regulations and neighbors. He once operated Greektown restaurant and bar DrinkHaus, which closed in 2019 after failing to adhere to its operation plan submitted to the city. The bar was known for staying open after hours.
Another nightclub Gilmore worked with, Nouveau Tavern in River North, closed in 2015 after receiving a “drug and gang ordinance nuisance” notice from City Hall. In that case, more than a dozen police officers showed up to court to testify against the business.
Earlier this month, Nipsey’s owners were issued four citations and an order to stop “unlicensed (public place of amusement) activity,” referring to a business license required for things like live entertainment, music venues and DJs.
According to the notice issued by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, owners were cited for exceeding allowed occupancy, failure to adhere to a written plan of action, failure to produce a logbook of reported illegal activity to police, and failure to display a sign asking patrons to “Please Respect Our Neighbors, Please Exit Quietly and Do Not Loiter.”
Alvin Rider, Harris’ chief of staff, posted a copy of the city violation on Nextdoor along with a statement from the alderwoman.
“The following disciplinary proceedings are the first of (a) series of violations we are planning to address,” Harris said in the statement. “I have been in communication with the neighbors that been negatively impacted and will be holding meetings very soon with the Law Department, CPD and BACP to give updates.”
Rider continued to criticize Nipsey’s as neighbors streamed into the comments.
“Why do these businesses think they can do whatever they want in our community?” one resident posted.
“Brother … so true. It’s crazy,” Rider replied. “Hundreds of calls for service for fights and brawls. Urinating on folks’ grass and partying in the streets leaving the spot at 3 am. The neighbors are fed up.”
Gilmore posted a lengthy rebuttal on Nextdoor, calling Harris and Rider’s statements “beyond disappointing.” Gilmore also accused the alderperson of trying to sabotage Nipsey’s since before it opened and refusing to meet with owners to help them secure a live music license.
Gilmore said Nipsey’s has had more than 20 surprise inspections in the past eight months and Harris and city leaders were harassing the business, something he’s accused city officials of before.
“Instead of being a leader and bringing all parties to the table to work toward SOLUTIONS, a sitting Chicago alderman has, in our opinion, WEAPONIZED and WASTED city resources to harm our business,” Gilmore wrote on behalf of Nipsey’s owners, managers and staff. “It’s sickening.
“When 8th Ward residents can’t get police to respond to calls, trash consumes our streets with no garbage cans, more than half the ward has boarded-up businesses, 87th Street is a ghost town, speeding cars and dangerous car accidents on Stony Island harm citizens and destroy businesses — this alderman and her office, in our opinion, have gone out of their way to destroy a community-owned business.”
Rider struck back, denying Harris’ office had it out for Nipsey’s.
“Let’s be real,” Rider wrote. “This is not the first time Mr. Gilmore and his clubs have been closed. [In] fact, they were closed for some of the very same reasons we are experiencing in the 8th Ward. Even after all the issues in other wards, Alderman Harris still gave him a chance and it turns out they are engaging in the exact same behaviors that got them closed in other communities.”
In an interview, Harris confirmed she would not support a live entertainment license for Nipsey’s. She said she wanted proof Nipsey’s would operate responsibly as a restaurant first.
“We’re having this dialogue, and I say, ‘Hey, look, I know your background. I know where you came from. But you can’t operate any establishment like you had in the past. You can’t have a club over there,'” Harris said. “I figured I’d give a brother another chance, another opportunity to maybe get right.”
After neighbors began reporting problems, Harris met with the 4th District commander and business department and buildings department officials to warn Gilmore about what was going on, she said.
“And all he did was deny everything and say that somebody’s always doing something to him. And he denied the fact that the patrons that come to visit that place are a problem,” Harris said.
“I work really hard with businesses when they don’t fit in to tell them to get right. … I’m an equal opportunity person with the law. When you break it, I’m going to give you some grief. You can’t come here and disrespect this community and think as an alderman that I’m going to be OK with it. I’m not. I’ll close you down.”
A hearing about the license violations was held Friday, and another is scheduled for Jan. 28. A business department spokesperson said officials are working in tandem with Harris’s office and 4th District police officers to crack down on “unlicensed activity” at Nipsey’s.
Harris said she recognizes the community consensus is Nipsey’s needs to be “gone and closed.”
“At the end of the day, I’m here to represent the community, and I don’t know how much more the community can take,” Harris said. “I can’t have businesses that put my residents in harm’s way. I strongly support my community and their wishes that Nipsey’s be closed.”
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