Tuscaloosa Turns Down New Gastropub Over Public Safety Concerns
The city of Tuscaloosa will not allow a new business to operate as a gastropub, which functions like a restaurant during the day and like a bar later at night.
The entire matter revolves around state and municipal law governing alcohol licensing, which is dense material but was well explained by Tuscaloosa City Attorney Scott Holmes during a pre-council meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Holmes said on the state side, Montgomery only allows two kinds of businesses to get a license to sell and serve alcohol on-site -- restaurants and bars.
Bars are given lounge liquor licenses, but they are not allowed to admit any person under the age of 19 at any time.
Restaurants are not allowed to restrict access by age, have to keep a kitchen open and cannot charge a cover to enter. Perhaps most critically, they have to close at 10 p.m. on most days, which obviously limits their ability to earn income selling alcohol.
In the middle of those extremes is the gastropub designation, which was created at the city level to allow businesses to be restaurants until a certain hour, then behave like a lounge.
"'Gastropub' is the legal zoning avenue where we allow someone to act more like a bar after 10 p.m. as long as they meet all the other criteria, like serving lunch at 11," Holmes said.
When the council approves a gastropub, the city first grants a business owner their restaurant liquor license, then grants them the special " designation in a separate vote.
The concept on Tuesday's agenda was called Grandstand, a sports bar and restaurant planned for downtown Tuscaloosa's Temerson Square at the site of the recently closed Hunt Club Honky Tonk that many still know as Wilhagans.
The concept comes from Rajvinder Singh, who already owns and operates the nearby Bistro 17 and until recently ran La Bamba, a Mexican restaurant across the river.
Both Wilhagans and the Honky Tonk were allowed to operate as gastropubs, but Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley and mayor Walt Maddox both argued Tuesday that the new concept, Grandstand, should not be allowed to.
"The problem is no disrespect to the applicant at all," Blankley said. "But my issue is the occupancy allowed there. Right now, in Temerson Square and all the bars are very small and very manageable."
The fire department has said the building's maximum occupancy is 375 people, and Blankley said allowing that many people in a single bar makes all of Temerson Square less safe.
Blankley and Maddox said TPD would have to work extra shifts, like they already do on the Strip, to ensure safety in the area during peak drinking hours. That pulls officers away from other districts in the city where they could be patrolling, answering calls or investigating cases.
Singh assured the council he already planned to hire private security to work the door after hours, keep order and prevent underage drinking, but his argument failed to convince them.
The city council voted unanimously to grant him a restaurant liquor license but denied his conditional use as a gastropub 4-2.
Council members Matthew WIlson and Raevan Howard voted in SIngh's favor in the second vote. Councilors Norman Crow, Lee Busby, Kip Tyner and John Faile voted no. District 7's Cassius Lanier did not attend the meeting.
For more on the next steps for SIngh and Grandstand, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.