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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020 4 weeks ago

Main Street bars seek liquor licenses

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Two downtown bars are requesting the city’s approval to shift away from regulations stating more than half their business must come from food sales.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

On Oct. 10, representatives for Brewster’s Tavern led a community workshop at City Hall to discuss the business’s desire to use a new type of liquor license.

The bar, located at 1454 Main St., wanted to transition from using an SRX license to a 4COP license. The SRX license, per state regulations, is designed for restaurant use and requires an operator to generate 51% of its revenue from food sales. The 4COP license does not carry that requirement to allow liquor sales.

Under the city’s zoning code, businesses using a 4COP license are defined as nightclubs and require City Commission approval of a major conditional use. That’s why Brewster’s held the October workshop, which highlighted recurring concerns some downtown residents have expressed about the use of 4COP liquor licenses.

According to the meeting minutes, those in attendance asked about the noise, plans to keep the bar open until 2 a.m. seven days a week and the potential for the license to stay with the property if a new owner takes over.

Opposition to downtown liquor licenses has typically centered on similar issues. Residents have pointed to Ivory Lounge, formerly located at 1413 Main St., as a reason why they fear the potential for a business to retool after securing permission to use a nightclub liquor license. Ivory Lounge was proposed as a wine bar and jazz lounge but transformed into a more traditional nightclub, drawing sound complaints from neighbors before it closed.

Brewster’s has volunteered a series of conditions tied to its application in hopes of addressing resident concerns. Those conditions include a guarantee that Brewster’s kitchen will remain open during all hours of operation, Brewster’s will not transition into a nightclub-only operation, Brewster’s will not have any live music, and the business will restrict amplified music. Additionally, if new owners take over the business, the liquor license will not transfer.

In its application, Brewster’s states it intends to maintain the existing character of the bar and restaurant. The application states the business as-is “has not been found to be injurious or detrimental to the neighborhood.”

The liquor license application is set to go to the city’s Planning Board for review in March. Per state regulations, the city must make a final ruling on the application by July 13.

Brewster’s isn’t the only bar working to make the switch to a new license. On Dec. 17, representatives for Raffurty’s Bar and Grill held a community workshop at City Hall to discuss the same liquor license application. According to an application filed with the city, the business at 1888 Main St. had struggled to keep up with the 51% food sales requirement.

Raffurty’s has not yet filed a formal application with the city to begin the review process for the revised business model.

There was at least one difference between the Brewster’s and Raffurty’s applications: the response from downtown residents. According to the minutes of the Dec. 17 workshop, the meeting concluded 10 minutes after the scheduled start time because no members of the public showed up.

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