WEST TOWN — A giant inflatable snowman, Santa, reindeer and other Christmas decorations are back up in front of a West Town bar after the city ordered some of them to be taken down last week.
Owners of the The Irish Nobleman, 1367 W. Erie St., think the bar was targeted because it hosted events for opponents of Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st). But the alderman said he was just doing his job.
La Spata confirmed he sent city inspectors to check out the Irish Nobleman’s Christmas display, but denied it was political payback for the bar hosting events by two candidates trying take his City Council seat.
The Irish Nobleman has installed massive inflatable decorations on the sidewalk outside the bar and restaurant during the Christmas season for the last several years. The bar also puts up extravagant displays for Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and other holidays.
But Chicago Department of Transportation inspectors told bar staff Friday some of the decorations were in violation of city code and must be removed, owner Declan Morgan said.
A CDOT spokesperson said the Irish Nobleman violated a municipal code which states “no person shall erect or place any building, structure, or other stationary object, in whole or in part, upon any public way or other public ground within the city.”
“CDOT public way inspectors were asked to inspect inflatable decorations at the corner of Erie and Noble Street that were placed on the public sidewalk and blocking lines of sight for people driving, walking, and biking. The restaurant owners were asked to remove the objects to ensure the safety and accessibility of all road users,” a spokesperson said in an email Monday.
To avoid a fine, Morgan told his staff to take down the decorations. But now, many of them have been put back up on the bar’s sidewalk patio, just off of the sidewalk.
“I called my attorney and he said, if we put them … back up on the patio, that the city should not have a problem with that,” Morgan said.
But Morgan said this is the first time his bar has ever had any issue with the inflatable decorations, and believes La Spata’s tip to inspectors was politically motivated. The Irish Nobleman recently hosted fundraisers for both Sam Royko and Proco Joe Moreno, who are challenging La Spata in the Feb. 28 election.
“The decorations go up at least four times a year, like every quarter, and I’ve never never had a problem with it before,” Morgan said. “If there was a problem with it, why wasn’t it a problem last year or the year before or the year before that? Why is it now a problem?”
La Spata denied his notice to inspectors was in any way political. He said he was passing the bar and saw the inflatables blocking the sidewalk and potentially sight lines for drivers. Several of the decorations were also tied to a public bike rack outside the bar.
“In this case, it was simply a matter of me not even knowing if this was something that they were permitted for, which is why I sent it to the public way inspector to make the determination. But I very truly and sincerely bear no grudge,” La Spata said Monday.
La Spata said he had been in touch with the bar this summer to discuss public way issues regarding its patio, and said he’s “always going to go the education route before enforcement.”
But on the day he saw the inflatables on the sidewalk, La Spata said he was in the middle of “five or six different things,” and sent the issue on to city inspectors instead of contacting the Irish Nobleman directly.
“I like what they do in the neighborhood. I appreciate what they do. I have been a patron of the bar in the past and hopefully will be in the future, if they’ll have me. But I feel like what would be unfortunate is if I was turning a blind eye to potential issues.”
Morgan has owned the building and bar space at the corner of Noble and Erie streets since 1999, and has operated the business for about the past eight years as The Irish Nobleman, he said. He also runs Chicago Bar Shop, which does custom bar design and also operates a retail store in Lincoln Park.
The inflatables are now crowded onto the Irish Nobleman’s sidewalk patio, and Morgan said he and his staff are going to figure out which to leave up, and which to take down again to make sure there’s enough room for people who want to sit outside.
“There are still people who want to sit outside that will not come into a restaurant because of COVID, so I still have customers that way, and I also have customers with dogs and stuff. But now that we’ve moved the blowups all inside [the patio], there’s not a lot of room out there,” he said.
La Spata said he has no problem with the decorations being moved to the patio, and that is “all anyone was even asking for.”
“I had no complaints about what they were doing with their patio setup. It’s only when it is on the public way and attached to objects that you’re not allowed to attach things to. I’m really glad that they took the right action there,” he said.
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