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BYOB Soon May Not Be So A-OK In Chicago

Scott Olson
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"Bring-your-own-bottle has been part of the fabric of Chicago neighborhoods for decades, allowing folks to bring their own liquor to businesses that can't or won't go through the lengthy, expensive and uncertain process of applying for a license to sell it," as the Chicago Tribune says.

From "hundreds of restaurants ... [to] at least one BYOB strip club and a handful of art studios where people can drink their own booze while painting or sculpting," bring-your-own is a city tradition.

But now, says the Tribune, a lack of government regulation "is putting Chicago's anything-goes BYOB tradition under the microscope and in possible jeopardy."

West Side Ald. Deborah Graham recently proposed an ordinance that would have eliminated BYOB in the 12 percent of the city's precincts that have dry laws. Though she withdrew her proposal last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said his office would aim to help craft rules that reflect "the diverse communities and neighborhoods we have in the city of Chicago."

One part of any regulations, not surprisingly, could be fees. According to the Tribune:

"Chicago would be following the lead of other local governments if it went that route. Downers Grove charges restaurants $540 per year to allow people to carry in, and sets limits of no more than one bottle of wine or 36 ounces of beer per diner, according to the suburb's municipal code. Only restaurants can apply.

"Kane County instituted a $250 annual 'corkage license' and requires servers at restaurants to undergo training, and several other area cities and towns also make businesses pay for the privilege."

BYOBs aren't only found in the city's dry precincts. But The Chicago Sun-Times notes that some neighborhoods have long tried to keep alcohol out of their establisments:

"Chicago is hardly a place of Carrie Nation prohibitionism, but voters have since the 1930s exercised a right to ban alcohol sales by referendum. The votes cover an election precinct, just a few square blocks, but complications arise when boundaries are redrawn for political redistricting.

"Today, most dry areas cover parts of newly formed precincts, and city officials sometimes must delve into the archives to see if a liquor license can be granted at a particular address. Chicago's driest neighborhoods are on the Far South Side, with another cluster on the Northwest Side, but they crop up around the city."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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