Route 66 in the News

Are Fire Laws Endangering Historic Eatery?

2010-02-20 20:52:11

GARDNER, Ill. - Could it be the end of the road for a historical edifice on historic Route 66?

The lights were on but no one was home Thursday night at the Riviera Restaurant and Supper Club. The business isn't operating right now because of a fight over fire safety.

Problems with the business were discussed at a Gardner Fire Department Board of Trustees meeting.

Bob Keller, the new owner of the business, has been at odds with the Gardner Fire Protection District and the state fire marshal's office. The building, thought to be about 80 years old, needs a sprinkler system to comply with fire safety codes. Fire officials restricted the building's capacity from 173 to 50 while the problems are worked out.

"We did not only go out on inspections on Saturday nights as someone said," said Roger Ribbke, the firefighter/paramedic who conducted compliance inspections.

The restaurant is in the basement of a home at 5650 S. Route 53. The business dates back to the Prohibition era and is said to have been a hangout for the likes of Al Capone.

"We counted 69 (people) on a Tuesday," Ribbke told the board. "Some of them went upstairs."

On one occasion, Ribbke said, he counted 71 patrons. He said assistant manager Traci Stover admitted they were over the limit and said she had gotten too busy.

"We gave them 10 minutes to allow the patrons to finish. We went back in and there were 46," Ribbke said.

On Jan. 19, Ribbke returned to find a sign on the door saying the restaurant would close Jan. 21 if it had to comply to the regulation. He returned Jan. 26 and found only two cars in the lot.

A lawsuit filed by Keller in Grundy County Court was discussed. Ribbke said Keller is attempting to de-annex from the Gardner fire district to be allowed to annex into the Braceville Fire Protection District.

If the courts grant the deannexation, Gardner would still be the first responder to a fire at the Riviera due to mutual aid agreements.

Joe August and Ken Wood of the fire marshal's office attended the meeting. They said the Riviera building's place on the National Register of Historic Places gives it some exemptions, but not when it comes to fire safety laws. Keller has appealed the decision.

'Losing money every day'

In a Jan. 27 e-mail from Keller said he was contacting the state fire marshal to rescind the 50-person limit.

"With a 50-person limit we are losing money every day we are open," Keller said. "We must turn away people at the door. Last week an elderly couple with two grandchildren wanted to enter the Riviera for dinner. Our doorman had to turn them away or we would be over our 50 limit. The gentleman stated his son and other grandchildren were in the restaurant waiting for them." The family left and said they would not be back, Keller said.

Keller said the Gardner department comes out to inspect every two or three days.

"Three men in an ambulance enter the Riviera and point at each table counting the people," Keller said. "After they leave, the patrons want to know what just happened and are not pleased to be counted like livestock."

~Kim Smith, SuburbanChicagoNews.com

 

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