Liquor board meeting draws controversy

Nearly 50 Evanston residents packed a civic center conference room Tuesday night to voice their mounting concerns over a hotly contested liquor license for a proposed Tilted Kilt restaurant downtown.

The city’s liquor control board is comprised of four volunteer members who extend recommendations to the Evanston mayor and board commissioner Elizabeth Tisdahl. By the end of the 90-minute meeting Tisdahl announced she would issue a written decision next week after reviewing all exhibits submitted and testimonies transcribed.

Board member Patrick Hughes admitted that after almost an hour of public comments from 19 meeting attendees, he still could not offer a decisive view.

“I’m conflicted here,” he said. “I’m personally not excited about this.”

Fellow board member Marion Macbeth further elaborated on Hughes’ exasperation, asking the audience why it was not as riled up over youth violence, as exemplified in a daytime shooting involving two high school students earlier this month.

“You don’t see these people coming up when we have other problems,” she said. “That distresses me.”

Tilted Kilt opponents in attendance were equally frustrated – first at the general concept behind the provocative eatery, then in response to their concerns being dismissed by both restaurant representatives and license applicant Ted Mavrakis.

During his formal address, he told an audience almost evenly split between men and women that he too initially had reservations about the national chain.

“But the more and more I looked, the more I found none of the things people presented,” Mavrakis said. “I would encourage you to go and see yourself.”

Most Tilted Kilt critics emphasized the allegedly sexist element of the Celtic-themed sports bar, which features waitresses in midriff-baring shirts and short skirts advertised as “entertainers.” Other complaints centered on the crowd such an establishment may attract and its potential influence on area teenagers.

The sharpest attacks, however, aimed to unveil what Tilted Kilt challengers believe is an opaque operation.

“Actually, I would have much more respect if they were trying to open a strip club because that is at least honest and authentic,” said Damien Flynn, an Evanston resident who spoke fifth.

Other objectors shared even more impassioned appeals, with several circulating photo printouts of Tilted Kilt waitresses’ revealing outfits. Tisdahl assured all visual evidence would be retained for her final consideration.

Evanston resident Liz Reeves said her preteen daughters are at a point in their life where they’re questioning their identities and gauging “what the world wants from me.”

“Is this what the world wants from them? This?” she said, holding up a full-page picture of a Tilted Kilt waitress alongside a portrait of one of her daughters.

But other public commenters fired back, rebutting opponents’ charges that the Tilted Kilt website depicts a business that’s “not accidentally sexy,” as one speaker jibed.

Kevin Pearson, an Evanston businessman who said he recently visited three separate Chicagoland Tilted Kilts, claimed restaurant objections purely based off the website content are unfounded.

“I didn’t come across things people are frightened of – the extremes,” he said. “I get the feeling the fears are a little exaggerated.”

Another Tilted Kilt proponent, Evanston resident Hanson Shen, stirred a disgruntled audience after defending the restaurant as just another place to enjoy athletic events. He added he lives directly across the street from the proposed site and would certainly frequent it if its liquor license were granted.

“The Tilted Kilt would then be a perfect place to be,” Shen concluded amid shaking heads and disapproval.

Tension peaked as the public comment section concluded and city officials, Tilted Kilt representatives and Mavrakis addressed the liquor control board. After Tisdahl commended audience participants for their “thoughtfulness and efforts to engage in democracy,” Mavrakis’s wife, Carol, condemned rumors that the Tilted Kilt is essentially a softcore porn outlet as “absolutely offensive and irresponsible.”

She cited an online petition started Thursday afternoon by Evanston residents and fellow attorneys Cynthia Farenga and Kathleen Flaherty. Both community organizers were the first speakers of the night, and they submitted a 163-page printout of the petition to liquor board members for their consideration. By the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, more than 1,900 restaurant opponents had signed the petition.

“I would challenge all of you to go and visit a Tilted Kilt,” Carol Mavrakis said. “What information did these 2,000 people have in signing this petition?”

She also assured the audience that her husband, who owns eight other commercial properties in downtown Evanston, is responsible for more than $500,000 of property taxes each year and is willing to contribute $1 million to the Tilted Kilt’s interior construction. He later said filling the first-floor space in the Fountain Square Building has been “very, very hard” over the past two years.

In addition to economic necessity, Mavrakis defended the potential restaurant on the grounds that widespread attacks are based on shaky perceptions.

“Limited information provides a certain conclusion,” he said. “I don’t think this represents the majority of the city.”

And Tilted Kilt spokesperson Anthony Baroud agreed rampant misinformation had led to false reservations about his employer. He described the Tilted Kilt as more of an “extremely high-end sports bar” than a Hooters knockoff.

Baroud also touted the restaurant’s sterling safety record after multiple public commenters questioned whether another downtown bar would lure in violent characters. He said there has not been “one reported incident” at any of the chain’s 54 locations nationwide.

Tisdahl eventually solicited questions from liquor control board members, who are supposed to inform her ultimate decision. The firmest reply was put forth by board member Dick Peach, who said Tilted Kilt critics “sounded very familiar” to embattled attempts to prevent the opening of the first liquor store in downtown Evanston.

“Times are changing,” Peach said. “Things are going on.”

Tisdahl refused to provide any hints as to her final leaning as the meeting concluded. She assured all parties she would comb over all on-record data before formulating a set resolution.

“The final decision is mine and only mine,” Tisdahl said. “Lucky me.”

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