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Summit may nix Comedy Night

BY JOSEPH BELK | APRIL 29, 2010 7:30 AM

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Downtown bar the Summit’s weekly comedy show may be having its last laugh.

Owner Mike Porter said the 21-ordinance, which will take effect June 1, has forced him to re-evaluate the feasibility of hosting a comedy show each Wednesday night without underage patrons, who pay admission.

Around 100 people generally attend the shows at Summit, 10 S. Clinton St., and Porter estimates roughly one-third of those are under 21.

Porter cited the expenditures involved with the shows — pay and hotel accommodations for comedians, labor for preparation, and salary for approximately 10 employees — as difficulties in running the event.

“We don’t make a lot on the comedy show,” he said. “But on average, we’re breaking even or better.”

The last comedy show is slated for May 12.

But Porter said he’s considering other options, including moving the comedy show to an earlier time next fall. That idea would have underage patrons out of the door by 10 p.m., when Iowa City bars must become 21-only.

He’s not sure if that move is the right solution, though.

“Students are looking for late-night entertainment,” he said. “I’m not sure if they’re looking for entertainment in the early evening.”

Other bars that host shows have had to make accommodations for the existing 19-ordinance.

Brett Heaford, a manager at the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave., said he expects his bar to weather the changes from the 21-ordinance, noting the establishment hosts all-ages concerts that end by 10 p.m.

However, he said, he anticipates some effects from the new ordinance.

“The 21-ordinance will change downtown just for the fact that 21-year-olds have friends who are under 21,” Heaford said. “Not having 19-year-olds going downtown will lose business for everybody.”

Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., said raising her entry age to 21 around nine years ago had challenges.

“I did have tremendous losses in the first year, mainly in cover charges,” Cohen said. “People above 21, I guess, don’t want to pay cover charge.”

Other bar owners and Iowa City city councilors have discussed such options as eliminating drink specials and creating alcohol-free areas in establishments once the ordinance goes into effect.

Councilor Connie Champion said canceling the comedy shows might be a “knee-jerk reaction,” but bars will have to adapt to the 21-ordinance.

“They’re going to think of different ways of doing business, no doubt about it,” she said. “We don’t have the answer, but they might.”

UI sophomore Navi Bajwa, who doesn’t understand why venues would drop their attractions, said the bars seem to be engaging in scare tactics.

“It’s counterintuitive,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for the bars to be threatening to take away their drink specials and concerts, because those are meant to bring people in.”

Summit’s comedy show first started in 1991 at another of Porter’s bars: One-Eyed Jakes, 18-20 S. Clinton St. The venue changed to Summit in 2002 to provide for more seating.

Jack Lewis, who hosts the comedy show, said attendance has been declining lately.

Porter said he didn’t want to comment on the possibility of creating alcohol-free areas for Summit’s comedy shows.

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