A photo from a party inside DrinkHaus | Photo courtesy of DrinkHaus
The People is our section for opinions on all things concerning Black Chicago. In this opinion piece, journalist Andrea V. Watson shares her disappointment in the recent closing of DrinkHaus, a popular Black-owned bar and restaurant in Greektown.

Chicago thrives off of tourist attractions, restaurants and nightlife, just like any other large metropolitan city. In a city like Chicago, you’d think there would be hundreds of nightlife options. There are, but not for Black Chicagoans. For Black millennials seeking a specific vibe — classy with a mix of ratchet, because we want our trap music without feeling like we’re actually in the trap — bar and restaurant options are low, like, less than 10. No offense to the rest of Chicago, but River North and Wicker Park don’t give us the vibe we’re looking for. Sure, the DJ will play “Black” music, but a perfectly lit song will get ruined by the addition of a techno beat as the DJ speeds up the track to match their crowd’s preference. The first thing Black people ask each other when venturing out to a new place is, “How’s the music?” 

So you can imagine my disappointment when I learned this past week that DrinkHaus, a Black-owned restaurant and bar in Greektown, made an agreement with the city on Aug. 23 to keep its doors closed for good. The news spread through texts, group chats, tweets and Facebook posts like wildfire. 

Back on July 3, word spread on social media that DrinkHaus was closed temporarily “due to very minor building code infractions,” according to a statement on its website. At the time, management stressed that it was doing everything possible to get the doors back open and its 50-plus staffers back to work. Sadly, for many of us, we knew this was only the beginning of DrinkHaus’s inevitable end. 

For me, personally, DrinkHaus’s closing is disappointing, exhausting and simply unfair. Why? Because we’ve been through this time and time again with our Black-owned establishments. These are the places where we can go and not feel discriminated against, where we can walk up to the bouncer with confidence because we know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our outfit or shoes, where inside bartenders won’t purposely ignore us and drunk white people won’t make racially insensitive comments or touch your hair uninvited. 

I’m tired of Black clubs and lounges getting shut down because neighbors pressure the city to find broken violation codes, that when addressed, owners are often denied the appropriate license.

Backed into a corner, most Black owners are forced to take the loss and walk away from their business. The now shuttered Nouveau Tavern, which DrinkHaus owner Teddy Gilmore also operated in River North, experienced a series of complaints from residents and neighborhood groups. That, and struggling to renew a liquor license, is what closed the door on Nouveau in 2015. 

Then we had Sawtooth Restaurant and Lounge in the West Loop, which closed in 2015 after a shooting incident near the business that injured a man. Sawtooth had already been facing eviction and city attempts to revoke its liquor license, according to DNAinfo. Same story, different zip code. Neighbors didn’t want us there either.

DrinkHaus was promising. It had a nice decor, good food, drink specials, our music and prime location with decent parking, but more importantly, all felt welcomed when entering its doors. I wanted to see a Black-owned business thrive. I wanted another good, Black-owned brunch spot that played our music because we deserve more options. My go-to has always been Batter and Berries in Lakeview and I’ve stayed loyal, but it was great to have an option closer to home as well. I also wanted another happy-hour spot where I could be surrounded by other young Black professionals. DrinkHaus offered all of that.

A promotional video on DrinkHaus’s Facebook page.

It’s 2019, and Black people still are getting racially profiled and turned away by bouncers and club owners who may also call the police on them. So yes, for me and my friends, it’s important to have more spaces where Black people can feel encouraged and safe and welcomed. 

Yes, Chicago is a big city with many bars and restaurants to choose from. And I do visit my fair share of them. But as a young Black woman, sometimes I want to get dressed up and request my Uber without worrying whether I’ll be turned away by some bouncer at the door because I’m not the right complexion for their party. I’ve had that happen more than once and their excuses are laughable now, but those same excuses weren’t funny in the moment. I don’t want to have to stress about discrimination and racial slurs. These are things my friends and I think about every time we venture out to a bar or club that hasn’t yet received the stamp of approval from Black Chicago. 

“The idea behind DrinkHaus was to create a place where WE can go and call our OWN. We attempted to recirculate OUR dollar by hiring and working with people that are like us.”

Those are the last words written on DrinkHaus’s website.

DrinkHaus’s closure is deeper than us having one less Black-owned nightlife option in Chicago. It’s become clear that affluent, white residents routinely fight back against Black entrepreneurs who open establishments in their neighborhoods. We’re not wanted, and white folks make it known every time they: 1) call the police because they see a group of friends waiting for their Uber or just lingering on the sidewalk while deciding the next move of the night, 2) form committees and host meetings to discuss the new Black establishment and 3) convince the city to investigate the establishment to find something wrong, but won’t give the business owners a chance to resolve it. 

As Black Chicagoans, we need to fight harder to make sure our Black-owned spaces that open in neighborhoods outside of the South and West sides are no longer shut down. Black business owners have been hit over and over again with some form of discrimination and pushback, oftentimes being forced to stay in “their” neighborhood. What’s happening today is another form of segregation. We still aren’t welcomed. It’s time we come together and fight. We need to support Black business owners by giving them our business, as well as standing behind them when they face pushback from the city and white residents.  We will, we can and we must open our own businesses in our neighborhoods and beyond. Segregation in all forms ends now.

Andrea V. Watson is a Chicago journalist who has covered it all, but has made it her mission to highlight the good news happening on the city’s South Side. She’s also the creator and host of the podcast “Help Me Understand Please.” Follow her on Twitter @AndreaVWatson12.