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Anti-Kilt sentiment permeated Room 2200 of the Civic Center on April 26, as nearly 60 people showed up at the meeting of the Liquor Control Review Board, most of them to urge the City’s liquor commissioner, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, not to grant a liquor license to a franchise of the Tilted Kilt. The question at the beginning of the meeting – and still unresolved by the end – was whether a downtown restaurant/sports bar with scantily clad waitresses and 30 televisions would be an economic engine or a blight on the City.
Ted Mavrakis owns several buildings in Evanston, including the Fountain Square building, where the Tilted Kilt would be located. Carol Mengel, Mr. Mavrakis’s wife, said Mr. Mavrakis “owns eight commercial buildings that generate $500,000 in property taxes each year.” A Tilted Kilt, she said, would “increase patronage at downtown businesses.”
Tilted Kilt is a chain of franchised restaurants that began in Las Vegas and is now headquartered in Tempe, Ariz. According to the Tilted Kilt website, “The idea for a modern American, Irish, Scottish and English sports pub was the brainchild of successful restaurateur Mark DiMartino. His vision saw a contemporary, Celtic-themed sports pub staffed with beautiful servers. And guess what the uniforms would be … knee-high socks and short, sexy plaid kilts with matching plaid bras under white camp shirts tantalizingly tied to show off the midriff.”
While several business persons said they supported the proposal for a Tilted Kilt for economic reasons, most of those who spoke in opposition were residents. Although both men and women spoke against the proposed restaurant, only one of the few speakers supporting it was female.
Selling sex and titillation sent the “wrong message” to sons and daughters, many said. A Tilted Kilt, they said, does not comport with the character of Evanston, because the costumes worn by the waitresses are skimpy and “degrading to women.”
Against the Kilt
Kathleen Flaherty, a retired civil rights lawyer, presented to the liquor commissioner a petition opposing the Tilted Kilt. The petition had been circulated online, Ms. Flaherty said, and contained 1,911 names. Cindy Farenga, also speaking for those who signed the petition, said they were aware of Evanston’s economic downturn but felt “a Tilted Kilt is not what we need. Don’t start on a slippery slope to degrade our downtown. … It is the antithesis of everything Evanston stands for. There is no place for sexism in Evanston. What does [allowing a Tilted Kilt] tell our daughters? What does it tell our sons?”
Tim McPike, an assistant attorney general with Lisa Madigan’s office, said he felt the Tilted Kilt is “demeaning to women and demeaning to people who attend it. As a father and as an attorney, I think this is not the right way.”
Damien Flynn said he was “offended” by this “lightweight sexual entertainment masquerading as a restaurant. I’d have more respect for them if they were opening a strip club, because that is at least honest and authentic. They are both selling the same thing. … I don’t understand the kind of person that appeals to – but I live in Evanston, in part, because I don’t have to.” He said he anticipated several reasons people might support a Tilted Kilt, one of them being economic. “The most vocal supporters of this chain … will focus heavily on the economic benefit this will bring to the area. That is false economy. A much bigger driver of Evanston’s economic success is our house prices. We have a premium because of the type of community that Evanston is. … Evanston’s brand is far too valuable to jeopardize for the sake of a tiny increase in short-term tax revenues.”
Artist Diane Thodos said, “Evanston has always been a special and progressive place.” She recalled the struggles in the 1970s “to give women a voice. … To lose the nature of this city – and the sexism the restaurant creates – we’re getting, well, the booby prize.”
Don Zigler, a former member of Evanston’s Health Advisory Council, said he objected to the Tilted Kilt “not because of its sexual nature” but because it would sell alcohol. “There is a connection between alcohol outlets and excessive consumption and harm related to excessive consumption – for example, violence, assaults and drunk driving,” he said.
For the Kilt
Bob Griffin said he was “very much in favor of the project” and that the “vibrancy of downtown Evanston is attractive.”
Arnold Sandler said he had a business “in a foreclosed building, with empty stores next to me. Business is not good.” He said he would support a business that would bring traffic to the downtown area.
Business owner Armen Minasian said, “I believe the market will tell if it’s a good idea or not. I like the idea of added revenue for the City. … Evanston is lucky to have a gentleman like Mr. Mavrakis. I hope you let him have his business.”
Greg Sultan, who said he is a tenant in one of Mr. Mavrakis’s buildings, said he did not like “the idea that neighbors would show such fear [of the waitresses’ costumes]. It’s exaggerated, overboard.”
Mr. Mavrakis said he had operated Giordano’s Pizza, which has a liquor license and has had “no incidents” there. He added that in the last two years “it has been very, very hard to rent space” in the Fountain Square building.
Ms. Mengel said people who know Mr. Mavrakis know how much he has contributed to the community. “He is investing $1 million in this entertainment/sports bar.” She held up photos of cheerleaders for the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks and said they were more scantily clad than are the waitresses at the Tilted Kilt. “I have three sons,” she said. “Would I take them to a Tilted Kilt? Probably not. We’d eat at Giordano’s.”
Robert and Anthony Baroud of Tilted Kilt said Tilted Kilt establishments do not allow waitresses to have tattoos or body piercings and have “zero tolerance” for lewd behavior toward or by waitresses. In response to a question from Liquor Commissioner Tisdahl, they said they could not alter the waitresses’ costumes.
‘With a Capital T’
Liquor Control Review Board member Dick Peach said, “I have been though more liquor wars in this town in my 65 years: [People said] ‘The first liquor store, the first bar [would be] the ruination of the town. They are not our culture.’”
On the other hand, Police Chief Richard Eddington said the issue for the police is use of resources. “Liquor establishments, well-run or otherwise, will consume more resources than, for example, an office building just because of their nature. That’s a fact that the community needs to know to balance all the factors – the impact of liquor licenses on police services.” He added that the Evanston Police Department officers “have been trained to be attire neutral” so the waitresses’ costumes “are not an issue for the police department.”
None of the other members of the Liquor Control Review Board at the meeting – Patrick Hughes, Byron Wilson and Marion Macbeth – indicated outright support or opposition for the Tilted Kilt.
The Liquor Control Review Board advises the liquor commissioner, but hers is the sole vote. Ms. Flaherty said the “consensus about the state [liquor] law is that having a liquor license “is a privilege, not a right.” She said she understood the law to mean that Mayor Tisdahl could consider “how a Tilted Kilt will affect the quality of life and welfare of the community and whether [granting a license] would be in the best interest of the community. “
Mayor Tisdahl said she would read the petition and all the emails before making up her mind. She said she would issue her decision in writing next week.