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City officials eye exemptions for 21-ordinance

BY HOLLY HINES | APRIL 27, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa City city councilors are examining ways they could work with bars to designate underage areas in the establishments after the 21-ordinance takes effect in June.

At Monday night’s work session, councilors agreed to send a letter to local bar owners asking if they are interested in the idea and to see what the changes might entail for individual bars.

Councilors suggested dividing bars into drinking and nondrinking areas using walls or separate floors in the establishments. But councilors also said they needed the input from bar owners first.

“They know their buildings better than we do,” said Councilor Regenia Bailey, who cast the only vote against the 21-ordinance. “They know their traffic better than we do.”

Some local bar owners and employees said they were interested in considering the idea.

Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., said she would support allowing bars to designate separate nonalcohol areas. Her establishment already has an entry age of 21 after 10 p.m.

The move would ideally maintain the downtown’s culture — particularly in the face of concern about the fate of music venues, councilors said.

Divided areas could be a possibility for the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., which hosts numerous shows each week. But the bar’s management hasn’t discussed the idea in depth, said talent buyer Sam Locke Ward. The bar has two rooms, but only the back room has a stage.

Tom Lenoch, who manages three downtown bars — Jakes, Summit, and Vitos — said separating the crowd is possible, though his bars would face similar problems.

Jakes, 18-20 S. Clinton St., has restroom facilities only on the first floor, and a DJ can only set up upstairs. The two-story Summit, 10 S. Clinton St., might be a better candidate, he said.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek noted the plan could be complicated by restroom locations and fire-code issues.

Several councilors also had other concerns.

“Realistically, how are you going to divide that without it becoming an enforcement nightmare?” asked Councilor Mike Wright.

Councilors said once patrons are inside the bar, stopping them from obtaining alcohol or venturing into the drinking area would be difficult.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said businesses will most likely adapt to the changes they face with the ordinance.

“[Business owners] have standards they have to keep to maintain their alcohol license,” Brotherton said, and the police will continue PAULA enforcement for all establishments with liquor licenses.

City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes said she will draft a letter from the council to local bar owners.

Other bar exemptions discussed at the meeting were for establishments that make more that 50 percent of their revenue through sales other than alcohol and for all-ages shows.

DI reporter Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this article.

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