Robinson's Ribs faces neighbors' ire over DJ nights

Restaurant owner says police checkups constitute profiling

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Tensions are running high lately around the 800 block of Madison Street, where Robinson's No. 1 Ribs has been holding "happy hour" nights with DJs that neighbors say have brought noise, garbage and public drinking.

The restaurant has received more than a dozen noise complaints to the Oak Park Police Department since the beginning of 2018, and police are now conducting regular "premise checks" on the business to make sure patrons aren't disrupting the neighbors.

Katy Groves, a resident who lives near Robinson's, said in a telephone interview that she is reluctant to call police on the business, but has done so because Robinson's has not been responsive to her complaints.

Charlie Robinson, owner of the decades old restaurant, said his security staff monitors late noise and litter and suggested there are racial elements to the complaints. 

Groves said her biggest concern is over the noise preventing her baby from getting to sleep. Groves said that when patrons begin leaving the establishment around midnight, they are loud and leave garbage and play loud music from their vehicles.

More recently, the business has attracted patrons with loud motorcycles, which rev their engines outside the business and disturb nearby residents.

"I moved to Oak Park because I was pregnant," she said, noting that she lived for years in the city of Chicago where more noise is expected. "I like quiet places where babies can sleep. I just don't associate Oak Park with a vibrant night life and a biker scene."

Joshua Drucker, another neighbor who lives a short distance from Robinson's, confirmed that the business has brought loud music and garbage to the area. Drucker said another neighbor of his – not Groves – has encouraged him to call the police, but he declined to do so because he is far enough away from Robinson's that the noise has not been a problem for him and his family.

"I didn't feel comfortable because it's not a problem for me," he said but acknowledged that he has talked to Robinson's about the broken liquor bottles that have appeared in front of his home since the restaurant started holding the DJ nights.

He said the noise "didn't bother me, but I could see how it would other neighbors."

Residents aren't the only ones complaining about Robinson's. On May 7, Robinson's neighbor to the west, Madison Street Medical Sleep Clinic, called police and said they've had problems with "excessive noise" coming from the establishment. 

The noise has prompted the clinic to "adjust their business hours to not have patients on Tuesday and Thursday nights because the noise from the music at Robinson's which does not allow their patients to sleep," according to the police report.

The complaint notes that the clinic "has to clear (the) rear parking lot and front sidewalk of empty liquor bottles in the morning after these events."

The owners of the clinic have spoken to Robinson's staff "although conditions have not improved." 

Sleep Clinic staff declined to discuss the issue.

Charlie Robinson tells Wednesday Journal that he and staff have worked to clean up the area after the DJ nights and have security to make sure patrons are quiet while leaving the establishment.

Robinson, who relocated his restaurant from down the street to the new space in 2016, said he believes the complaints and increased police presence at the establishment are due to racism because the business attracts largely black patrons.

"It's a black thing," he said. 

Robinsons said at least one neighbor has yelled racial epithets at his patrons, on at least one instance telling them to "Go back to Africa."

He said Oak Park police also have begun parking their vehicles outside of his establishment and issuing parking tickets for vehicles parked in the nearby neighborhood.

He said Robinson's staff cleans up the neighborhood after the business closes every evening and tells patrons to keep the noise down. 

Robinson said he has three security guards on the DJ nights to "keep the peace" and make sure patrons aren't disrupting the neighbors.

Robinson, who is in his third year of a five-year lease, said he is considering leaving the village because he believes police are profiling his patrons.

"There are opportunities in Forest Park (and elsewhere) …" he said. "I'm just really tired of this harassment from the village."


Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 23rd, 2018 1:20 PM

I'm just wondering if there are ordinances in Oak Park that distinguish between a "night club" (and the definition of a "night club") , a "restaurant" and a "bar and grill" which according to the sign in front of Mr. Robinson's establishment - a bar and grill. I really don't see anything related to #1 Ribs per se (like in his old prior establishment). It seems to me, Mr. Robinson, expanded his business model well beyond the marketing of his famous ribs. Maybe my speculations are moot, and have no effect on legal standings. Just curious, though.

Marie T Perkins  

Posted: August 23rd, 2018 11:23 AM

I miss Leona's.

Jim O'Malley  

Posted: August 23rd, 2018 3:18 AM

I take Charlie Robinson at his word. He's a community minded, honorable businessman. His adult kids, as they've taken a greater role in the business, have followed in his footsteps. If I didn't work nights myself, I'd be at the next event to show my support. I grew up in Oak Park, previously worked in the schools and have interacted with many many residents. There is as much hypocrisy in Oak Park as there is genuine love of diversity. It would be Oak Park's great loss to lose the Robinson's family business, and it would be a stain on the stated goals of the village. Charlie's word based on decades of credibility is good enough for me

Jason Cohen  

Posted: August 17th, 2018 10:25 AM

It doesn't appear that anyone has an issue with the general concept of the DJ nights so let's focus on solutions. Shouldn't Robinson's just host a community gathering at the restaurant and maybe invite the police to discuss making this work better for everyone? A nice night of eating some barbecue and working this out. Instead of fighting with no real chance of a positive outcome maybe let this be a great opportunity to bring community together and turn lemons into lemonade.

Neal Buer  

Posted: August 17th, 2018 9:20 AM

Bill, you are absolutely correct. Let's have a discussion on solving the problem. This isn't about race, it's about bad behavior.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 17th, 2018 8:24 AM

I recall someone dreaming of a day when his children would be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. The Robinson's Ribs controversy is not about the color of anyone's skin, much as some here want to make it so. It's about chronic bad behavior stemming from a lack of good character in some of Robinson's customers.

Valerie E. Jones  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 10:09 PM

Born and raised here in OP and I was totally intimidated to go to my sleep Dr. appt, at the sleep clinic at 10:30 on a Thursday night. There had been a fight there and 3 squads were there. What a waste of our police department cars. If it's all just fun and games why does ROBINSON'S have a huge burly man at the door? I don;t see "doormen" at any bars in Forest Park. Just sayin'.

Neal Buer  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 8:31 PM

Once Charlie Robinson played the race card, all conversation to fix the problem ceases. I do agree with him that it is time he move his nightclub to Forest Park.

Janet Miceli from Oak Park  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 7:53 PM

I'm 57 & I've lived in Oak Park all my life - When in the world did Oak Park start allowing nightclubbing & DJ nights! And really, on Tuesdays & Thursdays- work or school nights for most. How about trying the weekends at least? And those who r talking about the Irish Pubs, do u know that's Forest Park - a whole different ballgame!

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 7:40 PM

I have always liked the Ribs. But...what about the business neighbor - the sleep clinic - that effectively can't do its business anymore. Is it ok to just say "too bad" to them? That isn't very fair minded. What about other restaurants in town, if they become night clubs, is that ok when noise levels rise after dinner time in all those locations? This article is pretty quick to portray the victims as somehow being the bad guys because they dared to complain? Robinsons has been successfully here in town all these years with no issues, and now people are racists, but only on Tuesday and Thursday nights? Is bad activity now just so called urban life that everyone, black and white, has to just deal with? Who is going to want to live in new construction on Madison anywhere near this?

Lauren Arends  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 6:49 AM

I'm sympathetic for the handful of neighbors who are inconvenienced by some rude Robinson's patrons, but this article and some of the comments are giving me a bad feeling. Agree with the commenters below me who shared concerns about racism and profiling. This article raises more questions than it answers about what's going on with this business and it's neighbors. Personally, I like having Robinson's in the neighborhood. The activity on Tuesday and Thursday nights is part of urban life.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 6:41 PM

@ Jason Cohen: Missed your comment. I am saying that in keeping with the fine village thought of openness and diversity is he setting an inclusive atmosphere for say opera fans by playing opera music. I take back the white, bad choice of words on my part, stand by the rest. Then again, he may be playing opera music to loud.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 6:31 PM

Once again, set straight by the lovely, talented and closer observer, Kline Maureen. I never knew what my father drove and couldn't care less,, but my step father drove a Cadillac. Me, I was a 67 Fastback Mustang guy, still own one and every now and then I go out for a drive crack off couple good gears a become 30 years old again. For a while, Bill Dwyer, batter up.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 5:28 PM

@Brian Slowiak - look at the photo, the sign says Robinson's BAR and GRILL. This is not your father's Oldsmobile, LOL! Part of the problem may just be adapting to change - this is not the same business as the neighbors had before. Those who liked it the old way are not happy - but others find the new liveliness more appealing. And summer will be over soon enough - things will probably change once frigid weather rolls around.

Tommy White from Oak park   

Posted: August 15th, 2018 2:44 PM

I am a DJ (Nfinite) and a resident. Theres validity to both sides but there needs to be a happy medium. Yes, Oak Park has a race issue.....shhh dont tell them that because theres alot of denial going around. The patrons are no more rudely than the other bars that have large gatherings of people. The issue is that our residents are not used to this yet and it disrupts the psyche more than the anything. Inclusiveness and diversity will help with this transition. Trust me I do most of the block PARTIES and we have alot of fun. Littering and loitering is not cool or necessary especially the broken bottles. Theres a solution, let's explore that first.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 12:08 PM

@Brian, what's so hard to understand about an establishment playing music and having a fun atmosphere to enhance their business? Is this a wild idea you have never heard of before? A number of Oak Park restaurants have music going on at certain times. I also don't get your comment about them playing more "white" music. This really has a racist undertone. I am white and like all kinds of music. I bet I would enjoy the music at their DJ night. Are you also asking all other establishments that play music to make sure they play "black" music? Robinson has the right to play whatever he wants. If white people enjot it I am sure they are welcome to attend.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 11:00 AM

Irish Pub in Forest Park is a pub, a bar serving liquor and food with a license to do so. Robinson Ribs is a restaurant, serving dine in and carry out food, with alcohol on the side to compliment the food. There is a difference. The question might be why does Robinson Ribs need music to sell their, in my opinion, average ribs? Also, is Robinson hosting a night with music that attracts white customers? Maybe an opera and/or symphony night? You know, diversity.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 10:08 AM

I live two doors down from Robinson's. I have also seen the increase in traffic, parked cars all over the street, foot traffic on the block and the occasional conversations taking place on the corner. CorePower Yoga has been doing a great business on Madison and these are signs of their success. I think it is great. I feel the same way about Robinson's and their impact on the community. A vibrant business on Madison Ave that is drawing in customers from all over the suburbs is exactly what can make Madison successful. Is it a bit loud at times? Sure, during the breaks between the ambulances passing by on the way to Rush Oak Park I sometimes hear additional noise. But certainly not any louder than the successful and very friendly neighborhood auto repair shop next door that opens at 6AM every day (love you guys). If Robinson's were to leave or end these nights, I would go back to walking down Madison to Forest Park to hear a DJ and have a drink. That is fine, but I would rather support an Oak Park business. We all have different ideas of what is the "right" business in our neighborhoods, but this is one neighbor that thinks the change is great. I enjoy the conversations I have had with customers and seeing my block alive with positive activity.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 8:51 AM

Last time I looked, there were a number of African Americans, and and several Hispanic in the OPPD command and Sergeant ranks. Is Charlie Robinson really seriously contending that he's being racially profiled by that department? Perhaps he instead needs to ponder why it is he needs three security guards and what that says about his clientele's behavior.

Delila D Day from calumet city  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 7:12 AM

These none black establishments are not pulling in as much revenue as this establishment. It's pretty much that they dont even bring in the same amount of people

Delila D Day from calumet city  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 7:09 AM

I have Dj brothers that spin at that establishment and I sometimes spin there. Yes all this is is racial profiling because African Americans are making more money than what is expected of them. And also these other none black establishments are not pulling as little revenue as them. if this establishment wasnt doing well none of this would be happening.

O'livia Crosby from Oak Park  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 4:19 AM

Interestingly, right across Harlem and madison is a sle of Irish Pubs that I've been too and nobody ever complains... (maybe because they are the drunk white patrons) wheb they get home & its mostly black people having fun now there is a problem of loud noise & littering. White adults loiter right down the street & the police socialize with the buisiness owners.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 1:46 AM

If they need three security guards inside the business, they already know their customers are probably not going to always be quiet angels after drinking and going back into the surrounding residential neighborhood. No other bar in town has that much security or these noise issues do they? This is not a family restaurant anymore, it is a nightclub. When do liquor licenses get rescinded if things get out of hand?

Kelly Curry  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 12:03 AM

Also, about the sleep clinic and the comments below - the reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act for police records and he was quoting the police report. Maybe things are better between them now or maybe they are just worried there will be a backlash. But either way, they definitely called the police.

Kelly Curry  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 11:52 PM

I heard the noise of loud bikes and patrons being loud over the phone one evening when my sister called me to ask for advice on how to handle her toddler getting woken up. She decided to move the crib into the playroom in the back of the house for at least the rest of the summer thanks to the noise from Robinsons. That's pretty disruptive. And as Robinsons has been doing business in Oak Park for decades, doesn't it make more sense that all the new noise complaints are due to a sudden increase in noise (the new DJ nights), rather than a sudden increase in their neighbor's racism?

Echelon Jackson from Oak Park  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 11:25 PM

I went to a 50th birthday party there in '17 that inspired me to host a family event there in April '18. Both times, the staff was wonderful, and I did not hear music from inside the restaurant while walking to my parked vehicle. I think the neighbors should have a dialogue with the owner. And not blame the restaurant for loud music or noisy motorcycles from a handful of people. From what I've seen, they have a diverse clientele. I'd hate to see the business move to Forest Park.

Tony DjFly Kershaw from Naperville, Illinois  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 11:00 PM

I have to say this is sad I am a regular on those nights let me set the record straight Robinson does not allow anyone to leave with liquor bottles they don't even give out bottles when u order your drinks second I don't hear any complaint about the noise and traffic on lake street with all the noise and commotion over there. Anytime Africa Americans try to do something positive it's a problem I have to agree it's a racist way of thinking I Dj up there some tuesdays and I would be the first to say it's no way you can hear the music inside really come on people. Just like the guy said his neighbors asked him to call the police just because when he wasn't even effected that ridiculous and shows how people are when it come to blacks folks being to close. We have to grow as people if this was a country western business this wouldn't be a problem at all. But guess what we in oak park peacefully every week and we not going anywhere so put your feeling to the side and take this invitation to come join us in a good time

Tom Coffman  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 7:50 PM

Wow, I missed the Wed. Journal piece about the opening of Robinson's and its new dj program. Amazing we get hear about it as a result of complaints. How about an informational piece, and I missed the free pr piece like you do for most 'new' restaurants. I would say it would be a challenge to run any place on Madison, or anywhere in Chicagoland that relies on silence to support its customers. I'm sure they don't bank on it.

Julie Fox  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 7:29 PM

I am a former employee of the neighboring sleep clinic and there absolutely were constant problems with patrons drinking, and smoking outside that intimidated both patients and staff alike. The noise from the music was another issue. All of these problems were brought to managements attention as well as the police. I personally had to phone the police during at least one of my shifts. Safety was a very real issue and had nothing to do with race.

David Montgomery  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 6:03 PM

I'm surprised people are allowed to carry alcohol containers out of the establishment. Most establishments pour into a glass and don't let you carry a bottle out of the establishment. I believe it's a dram shop insurance issue. Are you sure the containers are coming from Robinson's ? It just doesn't hang together for me.... I've lived within a block and a half of both of his locations for 28 years and never experienced a problem... Charlie, his family, and his employees are all good people. His business is a great contributor Oak Park , and a great success story. It would be a significant loss to the Village if he moved his business elsewhere.

Edward Costello from Oak Park  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 5:34 PM

Why does it have be racial, no matter what color a person is, if you can't sleep, you can't sleep, just judge on what it is

John Kehoe from Oak Park  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 5:33 PM

Based on the comments of Karla Linarez, I would have to say that this story might be considered overzealous journalism.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 5:04 PM

keep playing the race card.

Karla Linarez  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 4:52 PM

I am the office manager at Madison St Medical Sleep Clinic and the information regarding Madison Street Medical complaining about the Robinson's is false. We have never filed a complaint against them. We have a good relationship and an open line of communication with the Robinson's family and their employees. They have been wonderful neighbors to us for the last few years since they moved next door. The reporter did call our clinic a few days ago and requested a comment however my staff declined. We are disappointed and upset about being brought in to such conversation.

Cathryn Moore  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 4:38 PM

If you have to clean up the area and ask people to leave quietly after every event, then there is an issue. This may be the wrong location for such a venue. Being loud, discarding liquor bottles and trash outside a venue is a problem in itself. The race of the patrons, neighbors, or police officers may not be a factor.

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