Report: Old Neighborhood Taverns Vanishing In Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) — The neighborhood tavern was, for generations, the most familiar gathering spot in any community.

But WBBM Newsradio’s John Hultman reports a Chicago author says it just isn’t the case anymore.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Hultman reports

Sean Parnell, who is known online for his Chicago Bar Project site, also wrote a book two years ago called Historic Bars of Chicago.

Parnell tells USA Today that many taverns around the city are empty – gone because of the economy, gentrifying neighborhoods, changing tastes, and city regulations.

Historically, the corner tavern was as much a part of Chicago culture as 16-inch softball and deep-dish pizza. The legendary Mike Royko regularly extolled the virtues of the neighborhood watering hole.

“I know a lot about bars. More, I’m sure, than is good for my health. It was my family’s business in the long-gone days when the neighborhood tavern was the working-class equivalent of the country club,” Royko wrote in an Aug. 28, 1990, column in the Chicago Tribune. “The corner tavern was – as the theme song to the TV series ‘Cheers’ puts it – ‘where everybody knows your name.’”

But even back then, Royko was lamenting the demise of the old-school institutions. That very 1990 column was actually about the closing of the Acorn on Oak, and his tone wasn’t so reverent later in the column.

“Damn progress. Damn real estate prices and rentals. Damn the changing drinking habits of the American public. We have lost one fine bar,” Royko wrote in the column.

That trend has hardly ebbed in the years since, Parnell tells USA Today. He says tavern licenses are difficult to secure in areas that have re-gentrified, and licensing and insurance costs have risen dramatically.

As of 1990, there were about 3,300 Chicago establishments with tavern licenses, which allow them to serve alcoholic beverages, USA Today reported. Different licenses are issued for venues that feature live entertainment, primarily serve food, or charge admission.

The number of taverns has dropped as city officials worked to shut down bars that drew complaints and police calls, and since 2009, the number of tavern licenses has stood at about 1,200, USA Today reported. In total, there are about 5,000 city establishments that serve alcohol, the newspaper reported.

Real estate broker Mike Costanzo tells USA Today that getting a tavern license is fraught with red tape, since an alderman can seek a moratorium on new liquor licenses in spaces as small as two blocks, and buyers are thus forced to buy the corporate entity that holds an existing license, the newspaper explained.

  • GO Southside

    Way to squeeze the small business person out. During these times some people want to go to the cornor and sit and have a beer and think about Hope and Change that was sold to them.


    wait till the republicans get in,then you will need to have a beer and think about your son/daughter DYING IN IRAN AFTER THEY START ANOTHER WAR.

    • Frank

      We can only pray that a Republican will be elected in November. The last thing this country needs is four more years of Nobama. The Democrats are destroying this country. Look at Illinois, perfect example!

      • king richard the 2nd

        i have to admit you are correct,the dems have been in charge for a long time and look at what they have done!

    • Joe B

      Obama will be sending them to IRAN and Syria by October.

  • john

    I miss the old days; all an Alderman had to do was give free garbage cans to any Democrat and they had a vote forever.

  • JOHN


  • juju

    So, who really cares about this story?

  • beechnut79

    One of the big reasons forr the decline in neighborohood taverns can be laid at the feet of Chicagl’s King Richard II. When he was mayor he really did not want the neighborhood bar and iinstead pursued the major corporate concerns. Where there were once two or three taverns on someblocks, today you may find one every five or six blocks. But the same is happening in other cities across the nation and in the suburban areas as well. It was at the time widely assumed that closing bars would make the streets safer. This was largely hogwash, because most of those committing the mayhem aren’t even old enough to get into a bar.

    • Lyndia

      You are right.

  • J

    they don’t need to have more neighborhood bars. THere’s already way too much commotion here. THis city wants to try & add the Super Bowl during the winter; the city has a big enough economy to survive without it. It’d be a big mess here. The city is hosting that G8 Summit in May and I honestly don’t think that they can handle ibut we’ll say.

    • beechnut79

      II bet so many are now glad we didn’t get the 2016 Olympics. That would have been a real mess.

  • J

    Yeah the Dems have F&$kt Illinois up and used the government coffers as their personal bank.

  • Wally B

    People used to go to corner bars to drink, smoke, and socialize a bit. These days you can’t smoke anywhere and cable/satellite TV has turned us into a nation of television zombies. A relative of mine has had a neighborhood bar out in the burbs for almost 40 years and ever since the smoking ban went into effect his business has tanked. Folks don’t even play softball or go bowling like they did a few years ago.

    • beechnut79

      But the smoking ban is statewide which means there is no place they can go in the araa. They are following the same trend along with old school neighborhood diners, book stores, etc. Chains and franchises have taken over. Too bad.

  • JR

    2000 less licenses even small places have 10 to 15 employees all week long. Plus accounts, waste pickup, suppliers etc.
    2000 x just 10 jobs per business still comes to 20,000 less jobs in Chicago. Many of these places were Ma and Pa types.

  • beechnut79

    You might also include such things as stricter DUI laws and increasing job demands among those who still have them, in additon to the advent of the Internet, cable TV and home air conditioning during summer months as factors as well, besides the trend of only allowing liquor licenses to establishment who also serve food.

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