Politically active Chicago Bishop Larry Trotter appealed to his congregation and to Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Sunday to let an iconic reggae music club, the Wild Hare, obtain a live-music license so it can continue to operate. Trotter hosted three of the four owners at his Sweet Holy Spirit Church on the South Side to condemn what they claim is racial stereotyping by the club’s neighbors in the North Side’s Wrightwood community. Trotter said he took up the cause after members of his congregation told him about their concern for a favorite entertainment spot, which has been operating as a restaurant without live music for the past five months.
The dispute is in Chancery Court, where the owners said the earliest they could argue their case is June. They said the club cannot stay in business that long by existing only on revenue from food and liquor.
Trotter revealed a letter he delivered Friday to Emanuel, saying the live-music license denials are based on “something other than safety, community welfare and the law,” and that was a situation that the mayor’s office should not tolerate. The mayor’s office did not respond on Sunday.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), in whose ward the Wild Hare relocated, said Sunday it’s a court case based on the neighbors winning their argument that they don’t want more traffic, parking congestion and live music.
“Every block becomes its own neighborhood,” Smith said. “Yes, we’ve had Kingston Mines [blues club] for years, but this is about a new business that wanted to open in a kind of sleepy place beforehand. Neighbors don’t want more.”
“The operators are perfectly nice people,” Smith said.
The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection denied the live-music license for the Wild Hare on June 12 and again on appeal on Dec. 4.
The dispute started after the club’s original owners dissolved their partnership in May 2011 after operating profitably and attracting an international audience for 25 years at 3530 N. Clark, near Wrigley Field. The new owners, who include two of the original owners, decided to move to the smaller location at 2610 N. Halsted, the site of the former Corner Pocket and Victory Liquors pubs.
The Wild Hare employed 19 full- and part-time employees at its original site, but has furloughed 10 of its 13 employees at the new site because of the license issue.
Owner William Glastris, of Winnetka, said Sunday that the new neighbors at various times have called them derogatory names and that a real-estate saleswoman accused them of attracting “gangstas” and young people from outside the neighborhood to the club to cause trouble.
“This club is a cultural touchstone in Chicago and has always stood for racial harmony,” Glastris said. “A small group who are racially biased have held back a beacon of racial harmony for the past 25 years, an unprecedented institution and a tourist destination.”
Trotter said the club owners have tried to answer the neighbors’ concerns and that the club cannot continue to operate without live music.
Owner Joel McCarthy, of River West, said the owners have also tried to explain that they feature and record mainstream reggae music such as that of Bob and Rohan Marley, and not dancehall reggae, which includes hip-hop.
The other owners are Asrat A. Sellassie, of Rogers Park, and Ruphael Mariam. Mariam did not attend the news conference.