The Nouveau Tavern has a black owner, and a largely black clientele in the largely white river north neighborhood.
The city says police shut down the restaurant last Friday night for clear-cut license violations, but the owner has a quite different take.
"My goal was to try to break into being a top shelf restaurant in a couple years," said owner Marsette Mangum.
Mangum says he holds a 100 percent ownership of the Nouveau Tavern which opened on Ontario in River North last fall. He's operated with a liquor license held by the previous restaurant here, and presumed a proper transfer was underway.
Last Friday night at 8 p.m., a prime dining time, Chicago police entered the club and told the employees to shut it down immediately. The reason, no valid liquor or retail food licenses. No insurance. The staff was dismissed after first providing guests with "to-go" boxes for their food.
"Why decide on a Friday night at eight o'clock to come in and close it down when he have no recourse other than waiting until Monday morning?" Mangum asked.
The Friday shutdown, Mangum insists, was meant to send a message, and runs counter to common practice of giving a license holder heads up that there's a problem to be fixed.
"This is standard procedure, but for some reason the city of Chicago does not want to engage in standard procedure regarding this particular location," said attorney Francis Ostian. "They do not want an African American to own and operate a restaurant in the River North District."
The city says the Friday closing "was not racially motivated. The licenses at the club are expired. And the change of officer application is incomplete."
Nouveau's attorney says the tavern two months ago paid to extend the licenses. He's appealed and the tavern, as a matter of procedure, has reopened, for now.
Mangum concedes there have been complaints about noise, crowds, and traffic outside his tavern, but that's he's intent on being a good neighbor.
"We're trying to be open for everybody," he said. "We're not excluding it. Not trying to make it a Black restaurant. Again. Who would come to River North in the hope of attracting only a Black clientele?"
City sources say the issue is with ownership, and the belief of investigators that a long-time Mangum friend Teddy Gilmore is the man who's truly running the tavern.
Gilmore has a wire fraud conviction from the 90's which precludes holding a liquor license.
Gilmore says he's invested not a dime in the tavern, and the city claim is bogus.