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The Library Bar opts to end split venue exemption

BY JORDYN REILAND | APRIL 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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Many underage Iowa City residents will have to find a new place to gather downtown this weekend.

Tom Lenoch, the owner of the Library, 113 E. College St., said he plans to speak with city officials today about ending a split-venue exemption that allowed his bar to have a downstairs underage section. Such a venue, he said, will not succeed until more late-night nonalcoholic venues exist.

"No [other bars] will do it," he said. "Until the culture of Iowa City changes, until the underage problem is addressed at the grand scheme, no one's going to do it because it's not viable in the culture that we have now."

George Etre, whose restaurants Takanami and Formosa have a restaurant exemption to the 21-ordinance, said he agrees.

"The exemption makes it very tough to cater to both crowds," he said. "You are finding more and more owners who think it's not worth the time or money."

Lenoch decided to open the split-venue addition to his bar beginning March 1 to allow underage patrons an alcohol-free nightclub atmosphere. Initially, a consistent crowd of 40 to 50 underage people attended on the weekends, he said.

Yet Lenoch said he has lost some legal-age business because split-venue rules prohibit people of legal age to drink on the underage level.

"The number of legals who don't come in because they can't dance has come down," he said. "I'm not getting a strong enough group who is willing to pay enough to get in."

The dance floor is located in the underrage section, which requires those over 21 to leave their drinks in the upstairs portion.

Despite a consistent underage crowd, Lenoch said, he lost money compared with when the bar catered more to the 21 crowd.

"It is a money-making establishment, and I have to pay my bills, too," he said.

If the bar had continued to be split-venue, Iowa City city councilors would have voted after 60 days on allowing Lenoch to keep the feature.

Councilor Susan Mims said the council will support whatever decision needs to be made, as long as it follows the law.

"The bar owners need to do what they think works best for them," she said. "As long as they are all operating within the law and doing whatever they can, we're supportive of it."

Lenoch said he will continue to run the Library, but he has made management changes and is looking to focus most of his efforts on legal patrons — though he will also try to cater to the underage crowd before 10 p.m.

"I hope to revamp the image that we have back to the legal crowd and make it more of a fun bar and not so much of a restriction-based bar," he said.

University of Iowa officials said they were disappointed the split-venue was not able to continue.

Kelly Bender, the UI coordinator for alcohol-harm reduction, said officials will continue to have conversations with bar owners about additional training against underage drinking.

"Currently, the environment downtown is still one that there is easy access to alcohol with people under 21," she said. "There's still such a financial incentive to allow underage access because that's what's needed to survive."

The need to make money and regulations such as the 21-ordinance sometimes conflict, she noted.

"[Bar owners] aren't bad people, but the environment has changed that we're asking [them] to do things differently, but the economic realities haven't kept up with that," she said.


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