Highland Park, News

Unique ‘speakeasy’ proposal in Highland Park needs work to gain trustees’ approval

A Highland Park salon operator who wants to expand her Roger Williams Avenue business with a barbershop that would double as a bar area offering food and cultural events — and who would like to someday broaden that into a larger food and drink operation — might win city approval for a more modest version of the plan.

But Yana Khemburg’s efforts to get the city’s nod for that larger operation, something city staff suggested could be enabled by creating a new liquor license category, must wait until after council members consider some larger potential liquor code amendments, they eventually agreed at their Jan. 16 Committee of the Whole session.

Most trustees said they thought Khemburg could quickly get a license to sell liquor as an accessory use to her existing business, Yana’s Barbershop, at 463 Roger Williams Ave., as long as she provided an updated floor plan and other necessary paperwork to city staff.

City Manager Ghida Neukirch said the submissions might allow for a successful council vote at its Feb. 12 meeting.

“I think this fits our desire for more vibrancy” in the Ravinia Business District, Trustee Andres Tapia said, adding “I like the idea of a bar having food that goes beyond breadsticks.”

Trustees, however, were less sanguine about the project’s various changes by the time it reached them this month. The newest plan would involve more hours of bar operation and would connect the salon with the building next door at 465 Roger Williams Ave., where the barbershop and liquor and dining operation would be located.

“This seems to be turning into kind of a daily operation of liquor consumption on the premises next door to the barber shop,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said, later calling it a bridge too far for her support.

The Jan. 16 consideration began as a request from staff to consider creating a new liquor license classification, one that would allow for full service bars that also offer limited food service and would let Khemburg move forward with her plan. But it morphed into a discussion not only about that proposal, but also about the way Highland Park has historically handled liquor licenses.

The city’s policy has differed for decades from those in other suburban communities, Corporation Counsel Steve Elrod said. Whereas other municipalities set caps on the number of liquor licenses they allow, and adjust that up or down when businesses close or open, Highland Park has no caps for any liquor category in its code, he said. Instead, the city had a category that didn’t allow the type of liquor use being discussed; all liquor has to be consumed on premises.

Allowing the type of liquor permit that staff thinks could apply to Khemburg’s project could theoretically end up allowing bars as a permitted use almost anywhere in town, without such bars ever having to come before City Council, he said.

Trustees were not happy with that possibility.

In her written report to trustees, Assistant City Manager Erin Jason said Khemburg first appeared before the city’s liquor control commission last September, asking for a permit to sell liquor in a barbershop she planned to open at 465 Roger Williams Avenue, next to her existing salon. She planned to name her new space “Ravinia Speakeasy.”

Khemburg asked the liquor control commission for a license that would let her customers experience “a European barber experience,” in a space where they could also relax and enjoy a cocktail.

The proposal included providing limited food service in the form of snack, cheeses and charcuterie boards.

At the time, commission members supported the project, which would have operated for limited hours. Even with changes to the number of barber chairs, shop waiting areas, and the number of lounge tables, staff felt approving the category they recommended would also dovetail with a general review they have been doing of the city’s liquor classifications, Jason’s report stated.

But trustees said the larger discussion would have to be undertaken before any action on Khemburg’s most recent proposal.

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Kathy Routliffe

Kathy Routliffe reported in Chicago's near and North Shore suburbs (including Wilmette) for more than 35 years, covering municipal and education beats. Her work, including feature writing, has won local and national awards. She is a native of Nova Scotia, Canada.

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