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Locals offer mixed reactions to The Library's split-venue attempt

BY DORA GROTE | FEBRUARY 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local students and Iowa City officials are unsure if the city's first split-venue bar, opening this week, will be successful.

Tom Lenoch, the owner of the Library, 113 E. College St., received permission from the city Feb. 22 to establish a split venue by dividing the bar into two floors — one to continue serving alcohol to those 21 and over after 10 p.m. and another for underage patrons. The floor for those underage will serve as a alcohol-free nightclub that will open Thursday.

"There is a market of people who are into the nightclub and who aren't out to get drunk," said Lenoch, who is on the University of Iowa Partnership for Alcohol Safety Committee. "I think it's a chance to prove there might be something here. The university is very supportive."

The new bar comes in the wake of an alcohol harm-reduction plan released by UI officials in the fall of 2010 to reduce student high-risk drinking rates.

Some University of Iowa students were excited about the new establishment.

"It sounds like fun because a lot of the guys I work with go to the bar after work, and it'd be nice to have a place where everyone can go," said UI freshman Steven Bieber.

Though others thought the change would be a turnoff.

"I just don't think that people who are 21 will want to go there anymore if they have been able to go there before being 21," UI sophomore Emma Rathe said.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said this is the first split venue in Iowa City. The venue's success and ability to keep underage patrons out of the alcohol bar, she said, remains to be seen.

"We will just have to see," she said. "It's up to the patrons to see if they can make it successful and abide by [Lenoch's] rules or disobey his rules and make it unsuccessful."

Iowa City City Councilor Susan Mims agreed the new bar's success rate depends on the enthusiasm of the bar-going crowd.

"We wanted to give the bar owners a different option to serve both sets of clientele," she said. "For some owners, it may not be economically feasible, but I would assume that if the bar owner is going ahead with it, then they must assume it will work."

Iowa City's 21-ordinance was passed in 2010 prohibiting underage patrons from staying in bars past 10 p.m. City councilors later voted to allow bars to apply for several exemptions including split venues and entertainment venues.

Lenoch said he originally thought the Library would fall into the food exemption —which requires 51 percent of sales come from food — but ended up at 47 percent, which persuaded him to pursue a split venue instead.

The split-venue certificate will expire in 60 days, after which the City Council will evaluate it.

Lenoch said strict security measures will be taken to ensure the venue stays divided. There will be two entrances, the current front entrance for those 21 and older and a side door for underage patrons. Matching cups for alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks will also be provided.

Despite the uncertainty facing the venue, Lenoch said, he's confident his new establishment will attract customers.

"The Library is a big place to fill," he said. "If it looks busy, more people will come. People will go where people are."


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