Last December, after thirty-five years of operation, the owner of Cy’s Crabhouse at 3819 N. Ashland Ave., Cy Koorosh Sadeghi, sold his restaurant to Pavel Vrzal, a Czech-born Chicago businessman, with Jeff Vasilas witnessing the transaction. By March the restaurant had been renamed to “Centro” and renovation on the site was underway. By late May the restaurant had shed its old fashioned surf-and-turf menu to become a sleek, Latin-cuisine hotspot complete with DJs and big crowds.
Within weeks neighbors were complaining about the noise and wondering how to contend with growing late-night crowds, which, they say, were attempting to break into their condo buildings, revving up motorcycle engines late at night and generally contributing to an increase in neighborhood crime.
Today the restaurant’s management is facing down a growing neighborhood movement to close the establishment and the city is threatening to revoke its liquor license.
“All of us are very much in favor of local business and support local business. But this was totally out of character of what’s acceptable in the community,” says next-door neighbor Sylvia Furner.
“After hours there’s a lot of people over there, talking and yelling and stuff,” says neighbor Clayton Jirak, who lives three blocks away.
The restaurant, which provides live entertainment until 1:00 a.m. on weekends, uses promoters to draw large crowds who pay a cover charge. In the summer, Centro’s became popular enough that overflow patrons spilled onto the patio and sidewalk along Ashland Ave.
The crowds were big enough and loud enough that eventually neighbors started an online petition to demand closure of the business. The police began to get regular service calls complaining about noise too. Neighbors say a lot worse things go on than that.
“First it started as loud dance music with a lot of bass, with poor sound absorption,” says Furner. Then, “there was basically people chasing each other with baseball bats and other things. This is at two, three, four in the morning and it wakes all of us up. Very loud crowds, very intoxicated.”
Restaurant manager Jeff Vasilas, says his neighbors live in the city and they should just get used to the noise of a successful business.
“We’re here at two or three and we’re putting out 200 people at night. If you look at the petition, it’s people from Ohio, North Carolina and other parts of Chicago. They have no say around here.”
“The neighbors just want a mom and pop business here, that’s the problem.”
“I think he’s scum of the earth,” Tom Dunaway, condo board president of an adjacent building, says of Vasilas.
“It’s only a matter of time because they get busted. Unfortunately the casulties are going to be people in the neighborhood. You’re going to get worse and worse crime. It’s only a matter time before you get a stabbing in the bar.”
Centro’s owner and management have met with neighbors, the police and Ald. Ameya Pawar three times this fall to address the neighbors concerns. In a meeting on September 23, 19th District Commander John Kenny told Centro owner Vrzal that the restaurant had twice the number of police service calls as other trouble spot bars in the area and that police had found Facebook discussions from underage girls talking about getting served alcohol at their establishment.
Earlier in the summer, according to 19th District Sgt. Karen Lemon, Centro had been ticketed for not having a patio license and for lacking a public place of amusement license, which is required for live entertainment venues.
But neighbors say the real problem is that the restaurant is really a club and their current incidental liquor license, which allows an establishment to serve liquor with food, is not appropriate for a nightclub.
“The consumption is incidental to food,” says Dunaway.
Police say that even though there have been 23 police service calls to the location, there have been no arrests at Centro and no crimes have been connected to Centro.
“When the TAC team had gone by in plainclothes, there was nothing going on,” says Sgt. Lemon. “A lot of the stuff [neighbors] were complaining about wasn’t Centro, it was on the street.”
Early in the morning of October 8 a man was shot and killed on Ashland Ave and Irving Park Rd., which some residents connected to Centro. Police however, say that there is no evidence the victim was at Centro that evening.
“The victim from the shooting was never at Centro. It’s hard to stop that rumor,” says Sgt. Lemon.
On October 13, Ald. Pawar, 19th District police representatives and neighbors met with Vrzal and Vasilas from Centro again. Attendees say Pawar told Vrzal that they had to stop operating as a club and that once the city Department of Business Affairs, which oversees liquor licenses, got involved, there was little he could do.
Vrzal then told neighbors that he was looking into selling the restaurant to another buyer who would turn it into a barbecue spot.
“We’re debating it,” Vasilas told Center Square Journal of a possible sale.
“These neighbors need to understand. They live on Ashland. It’s an artery of Chicago. Trucks and buses are going by louder,” he immediately retorted.
“By law we have to be 72 decibels 100 feet from the door. We’re not even that loud. Why don’t they just live in Orland Park if they don’t like it?”
According to documents obtained by Center Square Journal, the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs notified the restaurant on October 17 that their liquor license is, “not in good standing,” the first step towards revocation.
“It doesn’t change anything,” says Vasilas of the warning from the city. “If a restaurant is going to be in business, you’re going to have violations for noise or smoke. If you have a parking ticket, does that change your willingness to drive?”
“He doesn’t care about the neighborhood or the community. Only the almighty dollar,” says Dunaway of Vasilas. “He’s just trying to shine us on so he can get to the next weekend so he can make some cash.”