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Union Bar approved for exemption

BY REBECCA MORIN | MARCH 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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Midnights in Downtown Iowa City might become a little more crowded.

The Union Bar, 121 E. College St., was granted an entertainment-venue exemption this week, which will allow patrons who are 19 and 20 to stay past 10 p.m. on evenings the bar has live shows.

The bar must host at least 150 live performances each year to maintain the exemption.

George Wittgraf, the owner of the Union, said the establishment will use the exception for the first time on Friday, and club personnel are looking to book performers for April. The exemption was issued Tuesday.

“I’m excited that now college students of all ages of 19 and plus can hang out all night at a bar,” Wittgraf said. “It will be good for them and be more fun.”

There are currently five businesses downtown that hold an entertainment-venue exemptions: Blue Moose, 211 Iowa Ave.; Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington; Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St.; Studio 13, 13 S. Linn St.; and Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.

Wittgraf spearheaded a petition with Josh Erceg, a manager at Martinis, which was submitted last summer to repeal the 21-ordinance. The ordinance was kept in place after being voted on in November.

Assistant City Attorney Eric Goers said a bar could apply for an entertainment-venue exemption if it has had up to one sale to minors fine in the last five years. If it has had more than one fine, it cannot apply for the exemption.

According to the City Code, a live performance consists of a person performing for the entertainment of an audience by either playing a musical instrument, singing, performing comedy, reading works of poetry or prose, or performing theater.

The code does not consider those who play or select pre-recorded music or content, such as DJs, as performers.

Businesses that have not hosted performers can apply for the entertainment-venue exemption, but once granted, the business must start hosting shows.

“They do not have to have shows ahead of time,” said City Clerk Marian Karr. “Many times, they do not.”

Wittgraf said with the exemption, the bar will not only have performers, it will continue to bring in DJs.

“We are going to continue to have DJs,” he said. “We’re going to experiment with a lot of entertainment, a variety of hip-hop rappers to singers to bands.”

Although the DJs will not be the main component, Wittgraf said, he hopes to have music playing in between performances to keep up the atmosphere.

“The concept is to have DJs playing during the break [between performers],” Wittgraf said. “We want to keep the high energy between, before, and after performances.”

Although the bar was granted the exemption, one city official is unsure whether the bar will maintain the standards.

“It’s already in place in four or five businesses downtown, and they’ve proven they can keep their PAULAs down,” said City Councilor Terry Dickens. “The Union does not have a good record, so it will be interesting to see what happens.”


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