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Bars have long road on licenses

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | AUGUST 25, 2009 7:05 AM

Two downtown bars have asked state officials to overturn the Iowa City City Council’s decision to deny their liquor licenses.

Lynn Walding, the administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, confirmed Et Cetera, 118 S. Dubuque St., filed an appeal with the state on Monday. Third Base Sports Bar, 111 E. College St., filed its on Aug. 21.

George Etre, the owner of Et Cetera, said he believed the state’s more “fact-based” approach would favor him over the city’s “opinion-based” decisions.

David Carey, the owner of 3rd Base — known informally as the Fieldhouse — could not be reached for comment.

Iowa City has explicit policies regarding liquor-license renewal (the police chief recommends denying applications from any bar with an average of more than one underage drinking ticket per police visit), but the state says anyone holding a liquor license must have “good moral character.”

That means the agency administrator — Walding — must be satisfied with the applicant’s ability to comply with the law. And to do that, the state determines whether the bar has a pattern of compliance.

State officials will set hearings before an administrative judge soon; the agency’s review process generally takes around six months during which the bars may continue to operate. Either party can appeal the agency’s decision through the judicial system.

At that point, a judge would determine whether the bars can stay open during the appeal, something the alcohol agency generally opposes, Walding said.

Both sides have a burden in these cases.

“The licensees have an obligation to show that they follow the law; the city has the obligation to show they don’t,” Walding said.

More than 5,000 businesses in Iowa serve alcohol, and it’s rare they have trouble with licenses, Walding said. Though no numbers are compiled by the agency, Walding estimates fewer than two dozen are denied licenses each year.

City councilors denied both bars liquor-license renewals July 28, shortly after the adoption of the 500-foot ordinance and new PAULA-ratio requirements.

Since then, Etre said, he’s taken steps to lessen underage drinking in his bar. He plans to meet with members of the police to take suggestions for reducing the number of PAULAs.

He said he will also hire a monitor — in addition to bouncers and bartenders — to look for underage drinkers, and he is considering making Et Cetera 21 and over.

Etre noted the bar had steadily been reducing its PAULA ratio from a high of 2.750 in January to 1.469 in July.

Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay was unavailable to comment on Etre’s meeting with police, but Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said he was bound to recommend denying liquor licenses to any bar with high PAULA ratios, regardless of the efforts bar owners make to reduce underage drinking.


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