Chicago neighbors gang up on 'restaurant that acts like a nightclub'
Stand off over Plush
01/26/2011 10:00 PM
A heated meeting Jan. 20 at City Hall regarding the community impact of Plush restaurant was long on complaints, including charges of racism, and short on solutions.
The standoff could lead to a petition to close Plush, located at 1104. W. Madison St. in the West Loop.
“It’s just a very difficult situation and I hate how the racial stuff keeps coming up,” said Ald. Walter Burnett. Plush is at the border of Burnett’s 27th Ward.
For four years, Madison Street homeowners complained to the police, Burnett, and Ald. Robert Fioretti — whose 2nd Ward begins across the street from Plush — about excessive rowdiness. Burnett called Plush a “restaurant that acts like a nightclub.”
A murder this August across the street from Plush has fueled allegations that the restaurant is not just a public nuisance, but also a public danger. The murder investigation is still ongoing.
Plush owner Billy Kleronomos said these complaints are because his customers are largely black. “In order to be accepted by the community, I would have to put a sign outside my restaurant that said, ‘No black people allowed,’” he said.
Rupal Bapat, deputy commissioner for the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Dept., presided over a packed meeting that included Burnett, Fioretti’s Chief of Staff Andy Pierce, Kleronomos, irate Madison Street homeowners, West Loop community members and about a dozen self-described Plush supporters.
It was the first of three meetings to review Plush’s liquor license. If an agreement can’t be reached, the community — defined here as all registered voters less than 500 feet from Plush — could petition to revoke the restaurant’s license.
Martha Goldstein, president of the West Loop Community Organization, testified that “on certain evenings, a lot of people spill out of the club at 2:00 or 3:00, and the buildings most affected are the buildings across the street.”
Goldstein and other community residents accused Plush customers of “hooting and hollering,” racing motorcycles down Madison Street, littering and publicly urinating.
“It makes people very uneasy in our neighborhood,” Goldstein said. “I don’t know where these people are coming from. They don’t seem to be West Loop people.”
Kleronomos argued that people stumble out of other Madison Street establishments like Beer Bistro and Crossroads, but Plush is taking heat because, unlike those bars, it attracts mostly black customers.
Goldstein responded that race isn’t the issue. “People say we don’t want African-Americans in the neighborhood, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.
Some at the meeting wondered whether Kleronomos’s restaurant was actually a public danger, or whether he was just excessively unresponsive to community concerns.
Pierce, from Fioretti’s office, argued that Kleronomos has been “thick as a brick.”
“Plush has been a regular complaint at police beat meetings again and again,” he said. “But the owner of the club keeps having the same defense and chip on his shoulder.”
But Kleronomos did end a Monday DJ night that was an apparent source of rowdiness. Goldstein said that complaints about Plush decreased since the DJ night ended.
As for public safety, the Chicago Police Department reported seven disturbance calls on Plush since this July. The Police Department refused to comment on the August murder.
The police statistics may suggest that Plush is not a serious public safety issue.
“I think folks pretty much want to close Plush down, but legally we can’t do that,” Burnett said. “First, you have to build a case and there’s no real case — the police haven’t even said that the one person who got killed came from Plush.”
Burnett would like Kleronomos to meet with other restaurant and bar owners on the street and also with Madison Street homeowners.
Kleronomos said this was unlikely to happen.
“They don’t want to talk to me — the joke on the street is when they have a problem, they blame it on Plush,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I know what it’s like to be black.”