Some Evanston restaurants that don’t have liquor licenses have quietly let patrons bring their own bottle of wine for dinner for years — but now the city wants to cash in on the practice.

Under a proposed ordinance brought before a City Council committee this week, the city would make BYOB — or bring your own bottle — illegal — unless a restaurant pays a $1,500 annual license fee to the city.

Members of the Liquor Control Board at a meeting last month said they assumed the city already allowed BYOB service.

City Attorney Grant Farrar told the board the city hasn’t had any regulation of the practice in the past, and that state law doesn’t prohibit the practice. It “is wide open on the issue,” Farrar said.

The City of Chicago, he said, doesn’t require a license for BYOB service, but by policy encourages restaurant owners who provide it to carry dram shop insurance.

None of the liquor board members raised any concerns about abuses or complaints as a result of BYOB service at restaurants in the past, but members concluded that adopting an ordinance would make it possible to require that — like other liquor licensees — managers of establishments that offer BYOB service undergo liquor server training and background checks.

The ordinance as drafted by city staff would require the $1,500 fee from both existing liquor license holders who wanted to offer BYOB service as well as for restaurant owners that don’t have an existing liquor license.

At Monday’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested that the fee be waived for existing license holders.

The committee voted to ask staff to revise the ordinance to make that change before moving it to the full City Council for further consideration.

Rainey also expressed doubts that bar owners profiting from the sale of their own liquor would be inclined to let patrons bring their own booze and just collect a corkage fee or other charge for providing glassware.

The issue was raised by Eric Singer, the owner of Lucky Platter, who also runs a new restaurant pop-up space on Chicago Avenue.

He said the space is too small to have a full bar, but that chefs renting it wanted to be able to let their customers bring wine to accompany their meals.

Until the issue is resolved, city staff has recommended using one-day liquor licenses at the new space.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. (If you BYOB), I’ll tax your cork.

    (If you drive a car ), I’ll tax the street,
    (If you try to sit ), I’ll tax your seat,
    (If you get too cold ), I’ll tax the heat,
    (If you take a walk ), I’ll tax your feet.

    "Taxman" – George Harrison, 1966

    (If you BYOB), I'll tax your cork.

    1. (If you BYOB), I’ll tax your cork.

      That's perfect… John, thanks for adding some levity to another silly proposition (and money grab)!

    2. John Zbesko’s comment is spot on!

      This proposal to tax restuarants that offer BYOB is absurd.  It would further push the BYOB business into Chicago – where we already often go for wider (other than Thai) BYOB choices.  This proposal, I have a feeling, stems from the insecure restaurants that already charge OUTRAGEOUS prices for a glass of wine, which is why we go BYOB all the time. I really don't understand why people buy wine at a restaurant anymore.  These restaurants charge for one glass almost what the entire bottle costs in the store- talk about money grabbing!  Chicago/Skokie we will go…..

  2. John Z.’s got that right

    Maybe paying the city's upper management including the supertendents of both district 65 and 202 well above $200,000 (do they even deserve that?) and giving the house away to theaters like Piven that produce 1 production per year with little community outreach would help balance this city's budget. Better yet legalize (further de criminalize) and tax the purchase and legal usage of marijauna for those over 21. Quit waisting the police and court's time and resources and take this out of the hands of the gangs.

  3. BYOB regulations

    In this economy, it doesn't seem wise to create bureacratic cumbrance for restaurants to function. Restaurants that do not have liquor licenses already lose out on the huge income made from the sale of liquor. (And why don't they have a liquor license? Is it because they cannot afford one?) Hitting them up with a huge fee for the privilage of washing glasses of wine they didn't sell, and creating additional requiriments for them to meet when there is, apparently, no current problem with the BYOB system, will not foster a welcoming environment for new restaurants. 

  4. Evanston Amok

    OMG, what will these money-grubbers think of next, an air-tax? I am certainly glad we moved out of Evanston to Kansas when we did, otherwise the city might charge us an exit tax!! Wait till Obamacare hits toward the end of the year, and there won't be ANY places left to hit up for a BYOB tax. Good luck, all you Dems, enjoy!!!

  5. Open to a friendly addition?

    Love the post on taxing the cork. It's Evanston with all of our fine restaurants just ripe for the picking to impose tax upon tax. So respectfully, may I add a line?

    (If you BYOB), I'll tax the cork. 

    (If you eat out), I'll tax the fork. 

    Yes, that will probably be coming next — a tax on using or maybe washing any eating utensils in a restaurant. 

    1. if you smoke your own meat . . .

      I'll tax your pork.  

      We need a whole stanza AND, there used to be a great local who smoked his own meat — best.  bacon. ever.  I think they shut him down for not having a license, but that's all abotu tax too so I think the pork like can stay.  

  6. BYOB fee

    I can only imagine the feelings of other small businesses and restaurants, but I can say without a doubt that this would kill the Boocoo Cultural Center.  We are already fighting to give exceptionally affordable opportunities here for the community like music lessons, dance classes, music jams and other activities that are often available for free.  We have special rates (from our already very affordable rates) for nonprofit organizations, churches and other groups to have meetings, gatherings and fundraisers here.  We recently started a program with the ETHS Hip Hop Club allowing them to record their original vocals in our studio for less than half of the regular rate which is already incredibly low.  This has become an extremely popular, safe and productive activity for the kids.

    How are we able to do this and what does this all have to do with the BYOB fee?  Well, we also offer rental space for private and public gatherings, MANY of which bring their own beer and wine.  We are not a full service restaurant, but I already have three employees that have their BASSET (seller/server) certificates just for these occasions.  The revenue that we get from these rentals help us to bring productive, positive and encouraging activities and programs to this community which is in the most need, and which is largely ignored by the city.  Because we wouldn't be able to afford the $1500. BYOB fee, we will have to turn away those rentals that help keep us going –  the anniversary and birthday parties, the celebrations and fundraisers that mark very special times.  They come to us because they know we can help them give their nephews, their grandmas, their bride-to-be and so forth, a welcoming and affordable space in which to celebrate and feel respected.    

    Now don't even get me started on what the narrowing of Church St. and the decrease in parking is doing to us.  

  7. Tax the City Council & Mayor

    $2500 per idiot idea they come up with and double that for the ones that actually get enacted as laws or new fees.

    Call it a Nuisance Tax.


    Charon the Ferryman

  8. Really annoying

    Honestly- $1500 a year. Why would any business pay this. It really does make more sense to move your business to the other side of Howard St- where Chicago does not have a BYOB license fee. I understand having a BYOB license and maybe charging $25-$50 – but $1500.  Businesses do not even make any money off allowing this (yes a corking fee could help- but barely).  I am really disappointed that the city would make this so expensive. This just discourages creative restaurants and cafes from opening in Evanston.  Please aldermen- if you read this- reject the $1500 and make it a much much more reasonable license fee. Each new fee encourages me to relocate my home and business from the city. Just be reasonable- or just copy Chicago and make it easy- charge no fee. 


  9. Aldermen and the Evanston city government are out of touch

    I wonder what the candidates of the two contested aldermen races think about this?

    Too bad no one is challenging Ann Rainey. Because of that, she runs roughshod, targeting hair salons and church meetings in strip centers on Howard Street. Expect to see the bag tax reborn after the elections.

    Our City Council is out of touch. They voted  themselves a pay raise last year and voted for city tax increases amounting to 20 percent in the past five years.

    Vote out the incumbents.

  10. Chickens

    What about keeping chickens on your property, in your home for fresh eggs? 

    Remember that huge blow up about all that a couple of years ago?

    Should there be a tax for that? 

    (If you raise chickens) – I'll tax your yolk.

  11. Downright greedy!

    What is wrong with our city council? On one hand they throw thousands of dollars to "special" startup businesses while on the other hand they propose a $1,500 annual "cork" tax for restaurants that allow patrons to BYOB.

    It makes absolutely no sense. Property values are way down while fees (code word for taxes) are up. If the council works so hard they felt last year's pay increase was warranted, they should work hard finding ways to increase efficiencies, lower expenses and stabilize taxes for both residents and businesses.

    How else are we going to successfully ride out this economic rollercoaster? Every fee or tax passed to businesses will ultimately be passed along to consumers. The council encourages residents to patronize local businesses but they continue to do everything possible to ensure Evanston residents will look in other communities to spend their money.


  12. It’s ludicrous


    Charging restaurants for alloying patrons to bring in their own drinks is ludicrous. These restaurants do not "provide" BYOB – they just don't prohibit you from bringing your own drink to the restaurant. This is like placing a surcharge on a coffee shop for patrons that bring in a sandwich to eat with their coffee. 


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