10/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Coming Hyde Park Bar Mitzvah Ban


A bar mitzvah ban? For what reason should you want to ban bar mitzvahs?

Ask the guy who showed up at the August 5th community meeting on the planned redevelopment of Hyde Park's Doctors Hospital. Among the many quixotic neighborhood objections to the construction of a Marriott hotel on the site at Stony Island and 58th Street, this one is at the top of the list.

To quote one of Hyde Park Progress' finest field reporters, who heard it all go down:

[T]here was the "threat of alcohol being served on the premises" and [that] it would endanger children who would somehow get hold of the stuff ... [O]ne man stood up and said alcohol would surely be a threat, because there would be Bar Mitzvahs in the function room.

Yes, you read that right. If voters of the 39th Precinct of Hyde Park's 5th Ward ( Ald. Leslie Hairston) decide to exercise their "local option" to ban the sale of alcohol on November 4, they will effectively be banning the celebration of bar mitzvahs in their corner of the neighborhood.

Along with fun in general, together with the present and future possibility of a hotel with restaurants that serve alcohol, all of which are badly needed in our neighborhood. Through no animus to the Jewish religion, of course; it just seems that, in the eloquent words of this concerned citizen, whose foolishness we will keep shrouded in anonymity, bar mitzvahs are barn-burning, house-thumping bacchanals, where minors get a free pass to get drunk and loudly run around.

Which of course is true, as I plan my son's to be. But residents of the 39th Precinct don't want that. In a way it makes sense. It will be just one more thing that we will have to go and do on the north side, the only place where you can get rooms big enough to host fundraisers for Alderman Hairston, or bar mitzvahs for her constituents' children.


The bar mitzvah issue hasn't been the only bizarre concern to arise from the profoundly sagacious bosom of the 39th Precinct.

Over the last year or so, a collection of Major and Minor Activists have advanced worries that the proposed Marriott building would "alter the air flow"; the same Major Activist and Very Minor Meteorologist who made that claim also argues that the hotel would cause an ailment previously unknown to science, called "urban claustrophobia"; and of course there is the complaint that the high-rise hotel would block views from the nearby Vista Homes, views over which no one has any legal or proprietary right.

Among the Minor Concerns heard are threats to the safety of children, obstruction of birds, threats to the safety of children, interference with the magnetic field of the earth, more threats to the safety of children, and the overall destruction of the quality of life of happy homesteaders who like to park their cars for free on adjacent Harper Avenue, where life is quiet and there are no bar mitzvahs.

The interesting thing about how our devious local NIMBYs are using this legal maneuver is that, in most cases where Chicago precincts have been voted dry, it is to get rid of some liquor retail establishment that locals find offensive. In this case, to the contrary, it is to block any development from happening at all.

Typically, the targeted establishments are bars and liquor stores. Further typically, these establishments are thought to be vectors of crime and disorder, especially in poorer, ethnic neighborhoods. This is one reason Daley has been such an enthusiastic supporter of the local option city-wide.


The nearby 8th Ward, for example, has four local option referenda on the November ballot, as do precincts in the 13th and 19th Wards, both on the South Side. It is interesting to note that, while sensitive urban pioneers fret about liquor in gentrifying city neighborhoods, Chicago-area suburbs have trended away from prohibition, in pursuit of restaurants and the sales tax revenues they bring. The suburbs are more interested in pursuing the mechanics of urbanity than some neighborhoods within the city itself.

Alas, in Chicago, at least on the South Side, folks aren't terribly interested in these connections, or in making them happen. In the Big Sky Country of vacant lots and empty buildings, local South Side leaders have perfected the art, not of making things happen, but of taking things away: elevated spurs, liquor stores, public housing, and the very possibility of new development in the future.

All we need is buffalo to fill the empty space, and we've got eco-tourism.

Let's drink to that!

[This post also appears at Hyde Park Progress]