Et Cetera and Fieldhouse face city council

BY NICOLE KARLIS | JULY 28, 2009 7:07 AM

An Iowa City City Council decision tonight could set a precedent for the downtown bars that helped the UI garner a top spot in Princeton Review’s latest appraisal of party schools.

Several bar owners are expected to attend tonight’s council meeting to show solidarity with the owners of Et Cetera, 118 S. Dubuque St., and 3rd Base Sports Bar, 111 E. College St. — two bars whose liquor licenses might be in jeopardy. George Etre, the owner of Et Cetera, said he would attend the meeting with his legal team.

Following recently imposed city ordinances and changes at the law-enforcement level, the two establishments are the first bars to face the new process for renewing liquor licenses.

One official said the City Council would make its decision based on police reports.

“The information we have in the packet is pretty straight forward,” said Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey. “But, of course, we have a hearing that could mean more information introduced by the establishments.”

On July 16, Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine recommended that the city not to renew those bars’ liquor licenses, a suggestion primarily stemming from arrest rates for underage drinking at those establishments.

New guidelines saying Hargadine must make a recommendation to city officials based on how many underage drinking tickets a bar racks up went into effect July 1.

City officials may recommend a bar’s liquor license not be renewed if the establishment has a PAULA ratio — ratio per police visit — of more than 1.

Etre was surprised when he first found out his application to renew the bar’s liquor license could be denied so soon after the new policy was implemented.

“I thought it was going to be the 12 months after [the new PAULA guidelines] went into effect,” he said.

After his initial shock, he assembled a legal team to help voice his views at the council meeting.

His bar employees do their best with ID checks, he said, and he hopes he and city officials can work things out.

Though only two bars will be discussed tonight, it’s only a matter of time until other bars — including ones with PAULA ratios equally high — probably face the same process.

Those bar owners already are planning. That means not only talking with lawyers but also teaming up to flip the bad reputation their establishments have with city officials.

“We’ve discussed with attorneys, and there have been talks among the bars together,” said Tom Lenoch, also known as DJ Breakfast, a manager at the downtown set that includes the Summit, 10 S. Clinton St.

Lenoch said bar owner Mike Porter will attend the meeting.

The City Council doesn’t make the ultimate decision, however. Even if the group follows Hargadine’s recommendation, the bars may appeal to the state; the state Alcoholic Beverages Division has the final say.

And the owners might find more sympathy at the state level. The state denies fewer than a dozen applications each year, said Lynn Walding, the administrator of the agency.

Underage drinking issues will go through an administrative process that takes six months to a year, Walding said. The bar may continue to operate during this period.

If the City Council denies the permit renewals tonight, “that doesn’t mean they have to board up their doors the following morning,” Walding said.

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