Amid concerns about sexism and traffic congestion, Evanston’s Liquor Control Board Friday postponed action on a license request for a proposed Tilted Kilt bar and restaurant in the Fountain Square Building downtown.
Building owner Ted Mavrakis said he would be the franchisee for the bar, adding that he’s operated a Giordano’s restaurant with a full liquor license in downtown Evanston for 28 years “with not one single violation.”
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, the city’s liquor commissioner, told Mavrakis, “Your character is absolutely wonderful, and I appreciate all the business you’ve done in Evanston.”
“But the Tilted Kilt is a different kind of restaurant than what Evanston has had,” she added.
The chain features burgers and other pub food in a decor meant to resemble an Irish or Scottish pub, with waitresses the company calls “cast members” who follow a dress code exemplified by the picture here, from the company’s website.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said her only knowledge of the business came from looking at its website.
“But from what I see on the website, I would probably not take my family there,” Grover said.
She said it appears the business exploits young women, and only hires women who fit a certain physical type for its waitstaff.
She suggested that her young sons couldn’t get a job there, and “I couldn’t get a job there either, because I don’t fit the profile.”
But Mavrakis said that Tilted Kilt has gotten a welcoming reception from other communities and that the mayor of Morton Grove is offering him a free lot to put a Tilted Kilt in that community.
He said he’s been trying to rent the vacant first-floor space in the Fountain Square building, one of about eight buildings he owns downtown, for over a year — but he’s gotten offers from restaurateurs who want to pay just $10 a square foot in rent — which wouldn’t even let him pay the $217,000 a year in property taxes owed on the building each year.
By contrast, he said, a new Tilted Kilt in Woodridge is bringing in $4.5 million a year in revenue in a 10,000 square-foot space. And he believes a Tilted Kilt in the 5,200 square foot space in the Fountain Square Building could generate as much as $2 million annually.
Hank Goldman, who lives across the street in the Sherman Plaza condo tower, said he was concerned about traffic congestion created by people who he expected would cruise the block looking for a parking space rather than parking in the city garage just a block away.
“We can use more business to fill the vacant storefronts,” Goldman said, but he argued a Tilted Kilt wasn’t the right new business for the location.
Liquor board member Marion Kelly said any new business would create congestion, and it doesn’t make sense to leave the building vacant.
And board member Dick Peach said, “I’ve lived here all my life, and I don’t know of a time when people haven’t been cruising the street looking for parking on Sherman Avenue.”
“This probably is not my first choice for something in the Fountain Square Building, maybe its not even on my top 10,” Peach said, but he said he’s talked to a lot of young restaurant owners who tell him Tilted Kilt is the hot item in the restaurant field today and that they’re thrilled to learn one may be coming to Evanston because of the spin-off business it could create for other downtown restaurants.
Board member Byron Wilson said he favored the proposal because the building has been vacant a year. “If it’s run properly and conforms to the laws of the city, I’d say have it there. Sure, it might be better to have it in some other place, but from a business standpoint, I’d say ‘yes.’”
But board member Patrick Hughes said he’d asked his 11-year-old daughter about the business and she said she felt it was inappropriate. “I’m going to have a hard time with it right now, from what I’m hearing of it,” Hughes added.
City Attorney Grant Farrar suggested the board postpone action until it’s received more details about the proposed design for the site and possibly a traffic study, and until open issues about insurance and site management have been resolved.
Tisdahl said Mavrakis should also get in touch with Alderman Judy Fiske, whose 1st Ward includes the Fountain Square Building, who she said “is very concerned with whether this is in keeping with what we want to have downtown.”