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Forbidden Root's Fight Against Local Liquor Laws

By Staff in Food on Jan 22, 2014 7:20PM


Forbidden Root, a small craft brewery, wants to turn the old Hub Theater space into a tap room and brewery in the East Village of West Town. But the area’s zoning and liquor laws are proving to be an obstacle.

Forbidden Root describes itself as the first “botanical” brewery, featuring a wide range of plants from around the world in their beers. They take much of their inspiration from old colonial American brewing traditions and foraged ingredients. Founder Robert Finkel told us that vistors in the tap room will also be able to experiment with flavors in their beer by adding bitters, an ancient British tradition. Operations Manager and brewer BJ Pichman lives in the area and said they want to bring Forbidden Root to the neighborhood because they love its unique culture, as well as the historical architecture of the building.

However, the area is currently under a liquor moratorium and the zoning for the building prohibits beer-brewing.

The last time the moratorium was lifted was in early 2013, when Alderman Proco Joe Moreno requested Garden Gourmet, a small grocery store, be allowed to sell beer and wine. The East Village Association (EVA), a local neighborhood group, supported the Alderman’s efforts on the condition that he not lift the moratorium again for two more years. EVA is concerned about Forbidden Root’s current proposal because it requires lifting the moratorium, and have suggested they apply for an incidental alcohol license instead, which would require them to open a restaurant that serves their beer and would not allow them to sell bottles of their beer.

At the Chicago Grand Neighbors Association (CGNA) general meeting on Tuesday, Rolando Acosto, the zoning attorney representing Forbidden Root, told attendees that the incidental license would not be appropriate since it would require them to be a restaurant rather than a brewpub. Acosto said there is an alternative to lifting the moratorium, which is to allow an incidental exception for brewpubs, but that would require changing the law for the entire city.

Forbidden Root also wants to upgrade the zoning from B, which disallows beer production, to C, which would allow them to brew beer. EVA is apprehensive that this could have “negative impacts on surrounding residents.” At the CGNA meeting Acosto said that the brewery will be contracting bottling out and using the same trucks and trucking volume as restaurants do, and the zoning could specify brewpubs only.

EVA President Neal McKnight says that despite their concerns, they “are continuing to try and work with Forbidden Root and are in the process of providing additional information regarding their proposal.”

The West Town Chamber of Commerce, which supports the project, says they believe that a large number of local residents would support the proposed legal changes if they knew more about the project. Forbidden Root says that they "very much appreciate the community's engagement and look forward to having the opportunity to describe our plans to open minds.”

Forbidden Root is hosting a “Town Hall Meeting” in the proposed location (1746 W. Chicago Ave) from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, Jan. 23. They invite people interested in the project to show the alderman their support at the gathering, and for neighbors to come learn more about the proposal. Alderman Moreno is unable to attend, but a representative from his office will be there.

By Melissa McEwen