To Lucy Fischman, Kilroy’s on Kirkwood is a public nuisance.
The 39-year-old educator and community member recounted her experiences with KOK before the Monroe County Alcoholic Beverage Board on April 4 in hopes that the business' liquor license would not be renewed.
She said she’s watched people spill out of the bar, so drunk they can hardly walk. She’s wondered if the pounding music from the back patio complies with the city’s noise ordinance.
She’s heard male patrons catcall women and rate their attractiveness as they walk by.
A year or two ago, as she walked past Kilroy’s on the way to Hartzell’s Ice Cream with her young son, it happened to her.
Some men identified her by what she was wearing and called out a number she can’t remember now. What she hasn’t forgotten is how offensive and obnoxious it was.
“It’s a nuisance,” she said to the board, “believe me.”
At the end of her testimony, Fischman asked the liquor board to renew the license for just six months — if they were going to renew it at all. Although shorter approvals exist, board members informed her they didn't do six-month periods.
Kilroy’s co-owner Kevin Duffy, regional director Ross Freeman and lawyer Alex Intermill were also at the meeting. They used examples of Kilroy’s philanthropy efforts with the greek community and compared KOK’s police call record to other high-profile bars — Nick’s English Hut, Brother’s Bar and Grill, The Bluebird Nightclub and even Kilroy’s Sports Bar — to show KOK meets standards for renewal.
The board approved the renewal for a year on a 2-1 vote. The normal licensing period is two years.
“Kilroy’s on Kirkwood has had zero liquor violations in the last two years,” co-owner Kevin Fitzpatrick said in a statement provided by the public relations firm for Kilroy’s. “We work diligently every day to ensure our commitment to safety and a quality experience for our customers continues.”
The statement said Fitzpatrick and his team thought the board was professional but believed city officials were holding to Kilroy’s a different standard than other bars.
“We look forward to working with the community to further develop ways to ensure all Bloomington establishments provide safe and secure environments for everyone, and sincerely hope this decision will put an end to the political targeting of our business," the statement concluded.
Officials have spoken out against Kilroy’s long before the hearing.
The bar’s position in the community is so ingrained that when the city council was working on a draft of the Comprehensive Plan in the fall, council members called the business the elephant in the room that clashed with what some believed was the ideal future of the downtown area.
“In a way,” council member Steve Volan said at the time, “I think Kilroy’s gives alcohol a bad name.”
Volan, who represents downtown Bloomington on the city council, spoke out against the bar again at the renewal hearing. He said Kilroy’s involvement with greek life, such as involvement with the Drop the Puck on Cancer charity hockey game, shows how they target undergraduate students, even those who aren't 21, in their branding.
“The reputation in the community of this bar is where undergrads go to get their drunk on,” he said.
For IU students, Kilroy’s on Kirkwood has become a staple of college culture as iconic as taking photos at Sample Gates just up the street. It is seen as the place where people can bask in the freedom of young adulthood without remembering any of its stressors.
When they turn 21, students often make KOK their first stop. They do homework over $2 grilled cheeses on Tuesday afternoon and return for Thursday night’s limited edition T-shirt. They wake up before sunrise on Saturdays during football season to be one of the first in line for a buffet and mimosas at Breakfast Club.
KOK is deeply embedded into the college-town community. As a local business, it feeds into the city economy. Its land is owned by and rented from the IU Foundation.
Along with KOK, Duffy and Fitzpatrick also own Kilroy’s Recess and Kilroy’s Sports Bar. While neither of these are officially connected to the University, students view these other businesses as part of the same Kilroy’s brand.
Kilroy’s has attracted concern from residents as well as Bloomington and IU officials since last August when two controversial messages appeared in the same week.
A chalkboard sign outside KOK for the solar eclipse Aug. 21 read, “The sun is blacking out... you should too!”
On Aug. 25, just two days after the grand opening of Kilroy’s Recess, the new 18-plus nightclub also faced backlash.
Kilroy’s marketing manager Nicole Freeman sent out a tweet from the Recess account after hearing IU alumnus Mark Cuban was in town and had chosen to spend his time across the street at Nick’s English Hut.
“@mcuban come check out your old place! Spoiler alert: we got rid of the wet t-shirt contests, but kept the underage girls.”
After the tweet, criticism exploded with a flurry of reactions from individuals and community groups such as the Monroe County chapter of the National Organization for Women and the College Democrats at IU.
The city and the IU soon became involved.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton and IU Dean of Students Lori Reesor were among a small group who toured Recess on Aug. 30 and discussed safety procedures with Fitzpatrick.
After the tour, Hamilton said Kilroy’s pledged to send officials a list of updated businesses practices.
On Sept. 1, the Foundation informed the Kilroy’s owners of potential defaults within their lease by encouraging excessive drinking, Foundation president Daniel Smith said in an interview with the Indiana Daily Student. The IDS was unable to obtain a copy of the lease or original default notice.
In a Sept. 11 email obtained from the University, Smith told Mary Catherine Carmichael, who served as Bloomington communications director at the time, that he believed Kilroy’s would only change its ways with pressure from law enforcement and not the city or IU.
“It’s part of their ‘business model’ ... the Mayor and university leaders get upset ... the owners meet with us ... take the medicine and scolding ... and go on their way,” Smith wrote in the email. “They do not really care what we have to say.”
The Kilroy’s letter, also obtained from the University and the city, said the solar eclipse sign was not approved by management but also argued that it was not a direct violation of any clause of the lease.
“I believe that the Foundation and my client have a shared interest in providing a healthy, safe, and secure environment for my client’s customers,” lawyer Don Sherman wrote on behalf of Kilroy’s.
New measures of business operation were also outlined in the letter. Some were also reiterated by Duffy and his team at the alcohol board meeting.
Open to Close promotions have been discontinued. Students are no longer officially encouraged to participate in these days, where they would be expected to buy food or drinks every hour to stay in the bar from the minute they could get in until the bar shut down.
There has also been an increased emphasis on training. Kilroy's has reached out to specialized community groups in the hopes that local experts can boost their alcohol abuse and sexual assault awareness.
Social media posts have to be approved by a manager and must be posted before 9 p.m.
Smith said the Foundation is satisfied with these response measures and Kilroy’s efforts to make its businesses safer.
However, the effectiveness of these responses were met with skepticism from both community members and city officials at the liquor license hearing.
Mary Catherine Carmichael, now the city's director of public engagement, spoke against Kilroy’s. She argued the owners haven’t done enough to fix the unsafe culture and the concerns that have been raised.
Citing common promotions and cheap drink specials KOK still runs, she said she doesn’t believe the measures they've taken have improved their standing in the community.
Carmichael said she wants to see more. She thinks KOK, as one of the most popular bars in Bloomington, has the resources to make more changes than the ones they've already begun.
“I feel strongly they can do better,” Carmichael said.
A previous version of this story listed Anastacia Knapper as the lawyer for Kilroy's instead of Don Sherman. She is executive vice president of the IU Foundation. Additionally, previous versions of photo captions attached to this story incorrectly named the board.
The IDS regrets these errors.
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