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Report: Old Neighborhood Taverns Vanishing In Chicago

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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.

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