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Piano Lounge gets new liquor license, new location

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | APRIL 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Patrons of the Piano Lounge, formerly located at 217 Iowa Ave., should expect a “classier” experience at the bar’s reopening at 347 S. Gilbert St.

Iowa City city councilors unanimously passed the Gilbert Street Piano Lounge’s, request for a liquor license during their Tuesday council meeting.

The council originally denied the previous bar owners’ request for a liquor-license renewal in January, saying one of the three owners, Chad Freeman, violated the “good moral character” provision in the renewal process. “Good moral character” requires that bar owners not be a convicted felon, be financially stable, and comply with the law.

And after getting past another hurdle, the new owner and former manager, Matt Strabala, said he thinks patrons from their former location will be more than content with the new place has to offer.

He said he hopes the bar will reopen next weekend.

“It’s going to be a flavor of what they had before but on a much bigger and classier scale,” he said of the establishment, known for its central piano where customers can request songs to be played.

Officials originally said Freeman — who owned 30 percent of the bar — owed the city more than $46,000 in fees. The debt came from his construction business, Freeman Construction. Steve Frishman and Brett Thomas were the other two owners of the bar.

Councilors initially deferred the vote for removing the license to allow Freeman more time to procure the money, which he never did.

The establishment chose not to renew the license, and on March 23, the council informed the bar it could no longer serve or sell alcohol on the property.

Freeman said on Tuesday he was working to pay off the debt.

When the landlord of the Gilbert Street property approached Strabala about opening a bar there, the then-manager knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

And with a new owner and new location, the establishment was eligible for a liquor license at Tuesday’s meeting.

Strabala said that despite not being open yet, the place has received a lot of attention and people have stopped by to check in on the progress.

“We have visibility now,” he said about the new location, roughly half a mile from its original spot.

As for what new ownership may mean for the business in light of its recent struggles, City Councilor Regenia Bailey seemed indifferent.

“It’s just another business opening downtown,” she said after the meeting.

But the new location plans to have an extended selection of items as well as a wider variety of menu items including drinks. Strabala also said the bar would retain many of the same entertainers and even incorporate a few bigger-name acts.

Amanda Irish said she plans to attend the opening with a group of friends.

“It’s a nice enough place. I’m sort of interested to see what the new place is like,” said Irish, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa and a Coralville resident. “There are not a lot of young kids, which some people like — being away from the younger crowd.”

Irish said she, too, thought the old location did not appear very inviting.

“It was a hole in the wall down in an alleyway,” she said.


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