Space leased, U. of C. scrambles to honor terms

Staff Writer

A precinct that was voted dry in the 1990s has created a snag for an upscale Japanese restaurant intending to open up in Hyde Park.
Former Charlie Trotter’s chef Matthias Merges wasn’t aware that the sale of liquor was prohibited when he announced plans to bring a second branch of his much-lauded restaurant Yusho to 1301 E. 53rd St. The University of Chicago, which owns the property, is currently circulating a petition to reverse a prohibition on liquor sales for that space. The precinct the building sits in was voted dry more than 20 years ago.

Residents in that area voted to ban the sale of liquor in 1990 to bar two convenience stores on the 1600 block of 53rd Street. Herald reports at the time said the businesses contributed to intoxicated loiterers in the neighborhood.

Since then the precinct maps have been redrawn twice and liquor is available for sale directly across the street from where Yusho is planning to open.

In 1990 the property was in the 38th precinct of the 4th Ward. Under the newest ward map it is in the 1st precinct of the 4th Ward, which does not include the properties the precinct was voted dry to affect in the first place.

The dry portion of the precinct is bounded by Kimbark Avenue on the west, to 55th Street on the south, Dorchester Avenue on the east and 53rd Street on the north. Nichols Park and residential buildings make up the bulk of the area.

University of Chicago spokesman Calmetta Coleman said that a petition is being circulated by the University of Chicago to have the restrictions on liquor, beer and wine overturned. Liquor sales at Yusho would be used for for imbibing incidentally with dinner, not hard-partying, according to Merges.

“With Yusho that we have the whole beverage program is an integral part … we don’t want to deny that or dilute it,” Merges said. “I don’t think we’d stay open late. I don’t think that Yusho is that type of establishment where the emphasis is on a late bar.”
Avondale’s Yusho restaurant, 2853 N. Kedzie Ave., offers a list of tap and bottle beers, sake, wine and craft cocktails.
“We don’t have a full typical stock bar and well, where everything is customers’ choice. We do very specific things that go with our theme and philosophy,” Merges said. “No sake bombs … it’s a waste of good product.”

Coleman said that to overturn the prohibition, the petition would need to be signed by two-thirds of registered voters who live within that area, or be voted on during an election.