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11 liquor licenses withheld for violations

By Kevin Elliott

Birmingham city commissioners held off renewing 11 liquor licenses in the city on Monday, February 22, in order to clear up ordinance violations or tax bills owed to the city by license holders.

The commission annually holds liquor license renewals for the 36 establishments in the city that are licensed to serve liquor. City code requires those establishments to be inspected annually for any outstanding violations. The commission also uses the inspections to settle any outstanding debts owed to the city.

Commissioners held off on approving 11 of the 36 liquor licenses, instead opting to hold public hearings on March 22 for each of the dozen businesses. Violations or arrangements for a payment plan can be made prior to the public hearing date, which would guarantee the license renewal.

The 11 establishments scheduled for public hearings and the violations are: Birmingham Sushi for a violation related to its unapproved outdoor seating deck; The Community House, which has an outstanding debt of $2,086.50 from a sidewalk invoice (see update below on The Community House); Hazel, Ravines & Downtown, which has an outstanding debt of $321.69 for July 2020 taxes; Hyde Park for an outstanding debt of $5,011; Mad Hatter for an outstanding debt $6,891 for July 2020 taxes.; Pernoi for unapproved use of isinglass in its outdoor dining; Social Kitchen for an outstanding debt of $46.43 for July 2020 taxes; Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro for an outstanding debt of $463; The Townsend Hotel for an outstanding debt of $4,172 for a sidewalk invoice; Vinotecca, which has closed, for an unspecified amount of outstanding tax due;  and Rojo/Sidecar,  for more than $34,000 in outstanding debt, including $20,114 in delinquent water bills. 

Kelly Allen, attorney for Sidecar, said the both Sidecar and Rojo are closed and the liquor licenses are currently in escrow. A new Sidecar business under a new LLC is a separate business owned by restauranteur Steve Simon, which has opened in the former Mitchell’s Fish market site, 117 Willits, and operates under a different license. The Rojo/Sidecar license has reverted to the landlord of the building, James Esshaki. 

Allen said both locations were subleased from the former Max & Erma’s restaurant, which filed for bankruptcy, effectively terminating the leases held by Simon. The restaurants were forced to close in March of 2020. 

“There’s a payment plan there and we are trying to determine the taxes,” she said. “They will get paid when we determine who owes them.”

Commissioners also took the annual license renewals as an opportunity to review building inspections and contacts with police at each of the establishments. 

While some businesses had more interaction with authorities than others, Birmingham Police Chief Mark Clemence said it’s most common when servers are forced to stop serving customers.

“They have appropriate security and overall, they are running a good operation and have no problem with what they are doing,” Clemence said about 220 Restaurant, which had the most calls for police. “We usually get called when a customer gets cut off and is upset about it.”

(Updated on March 1: The Community House notified the city after the meeting that at no point had the local institution ever received a bill for the sidewalk work in question. According to William Seklar, president and CEO of The Community House, the city of Birmingham then presented a bill for the work and the balance was cleared within hours of being received.)

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