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  • By Lisa Brody

Entertainment uses at restaurants reconsidered

Several years after live entertainment and DJs at some Birmingham establishments led to fights, brawls, and even stabbings and shootings, Birmingham city commissioners are working on how to permit low key entertainment at restaurants while maintaining safety and control.

At their commission meeting on Monday, December 11, two local restaurants, The Bird and The Bread and 220, came before commissioners for special land use permit amendments and final site plan approvals, both of which included allowing DJs and live music in their restaurants. Currently, a city ordinance prohibits disc jockeys after 7 p.m when an applicant comes for a special land use permit amendment. It does not apply to establishments that currently have a special land use permit.

The Bird and The Bread came before commission to request a name and concept change, to Vinotecca, which would be a wine bar serving sophisticated European foods, in the form of small plates and tapas, similar to the owner’s restaurant in Ann Arbor, Vinology, and their former establishment Vinotecca in Royal Oak. The Elm Room, a banquet facility in the rear, would remain the same.

Owner Kristen Jonna had also requested, from the planning board, to enclose their outdoor dining patio in Eisenglass, a plastic that some restaurants have used to extend their outdoor seasons year round, but Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker said the planning board did not approve it, even for a request when a hotel will be built next to the restaurant.

“The planning board suggested something more permanent, like Nano-Walls, but they didn’t want it,” Ecker said. “They said something about costs.”

A concern arose because Jonna would like to offer low-key entertainment, in the form of blues and jazz, with DJs and trios, on some nights, as well as having entertainment in the private banquet room.

“I don’t think it (the ordinance) should apply to us because we have an event room,” Jonna said to commissioners. “It would be crippling, severely impacting business. It’s also pretty limiting on the front of the house. Not all DJ music is bad – not all brings the wrong crowd. We want to be safe – and it’s also not current. It also puts me at a disadvantage versus those who have entertainment.”

Ecker said that Zaid Elia, owner of 220 on E. Merrill Street, was looking to add a lower level as an extension to their restaurant, in the former location of Edison, with food and beverage service with the same menu as the main restaurant, low key entertainment, and a separate entrance. “Sometimes it will be open to the public, and sometimes it will be open for private events,” Ecker said, noting the main space has 170 seats, the lower level would offer 86 seats, although primarily lounge-style, with couches and just three tables. Access to the lower level would be through a separate side door entrance.

Elia said he would be bringing back what had existed previously, only better, with full food service.

He said entertainment, whether with a DJ or live entertainment, was crucial to compete with downtown Detroit establishments, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Rochester and other destination restaurants.

“When you build an establishment, what is your DNA? You create a concept, you get a demographic and create an entertainment zone, not to be the same as every other but to create an atmosphere. It’s our job to create the experience,” Zaid said. “There’s a lot of things to do to stop the problem if we do our job. We have enforcement, undercover people. We’re proactive in diffusing a situation. That’s why we’ve had zero incidents at 220. We own Parc downtown, we’re building the Kingsley (hotel in Bloomfield Hills). It’s all how we build the atmosphere. We have a major multi-million dollar investment.”

Commissioners recognized that a 7 p.m stop time for entertainment would essentially mean no evening entertainment, and debated the difference between public and private functions, and if there should be different ending times after city manager Joe Valentine pointed out that they could allow later ending times and if there were violations, then a public hearing could be held, as well as the ability to not approve renewing their liquor license.

“We have to decide if we want to have a division of time,” mayor pro tem Patty Bordman said.

“Most of our problems were post-midnight, the shootings, the stabbings,” commissioner Mark Nickita said. “I think we carefully consider the SLUP and put in all the details so we can monitor it.”

Several commissioners were comfortable with a midnight stop for entertainment, with a later time, possibly such as 1 a.m for private events.

Both public hearings, with unanimous support, were tabled until January to allow for attorney Kelly Allen, representing Elia, as well as many other restaurants, to work with city attorney Tim Currier, to craft ordinance language modifying ending times for entertainment for special land use permit amendments, and for penalties.

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