The dining and entertainment scene in Birmingham has changed over the last few years, as it has in the local region overall. A decade ago, the bistro liquor license, which was enacted in 2007 to bring greater activity and walkability to the city’s downtown and retail area, was bringing new and unique dining establishments into the city, joining larger restaurants and nightclubs.
At that time, Birmingham was also the prime dining destination in southeastern Michigan, with Royal Oak a secondary market, flooded with bars, and Detroit still a no-man’s land.
But things got a little crazy in Birmingham – with restaurants like Chen Chow, City Cellar and nightclubs like Hamilton Room, Blue Martini and South having multiple violations and dangerous fights, brawls and even shootings and stabbings both inside their operations or spilling out onto city streets. Birmingham residents and city officials had enough, and the city commission changed the entertainment section of the liquor license ordinance to only allow disc jockeys until 7 p.m. for new and changed special land use permits – effectively ending entertainment and nightclubs in the city.
Recently, two of Birmingham’s establishments – The Bird and The Bread and 220 – came before the city commission requesting a change in their special land use permit. The Bird and The Bread is becoming Vinotecca, a wine bar serving sophisticated European foods, in the form of small plates and tapas, and they want to have low-key entertainment in the form of blues and jazz, with DJ’s and trios, on some nights, as well as having entertainment in the private banquet room. 220 wanted to add a lower level as an extension to their restaurant, in the former location of Edison’s, with food and beverage service, entertainment and a separate entrance. Under the city’s ordinance, however, they couldn’t offer entertainment, although some existing Birmingham restaurants are permitted to, as they are grandfathered in.
Further complicating the restaurateurs plight, they contended, was that the market has changed, and Birmingham is no longer the only game in town. Diners today are eagerly traveling to other locales, and entertainment is crucial to compete with downtown Detroit establishments, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Rochester and other destination restaurants. The owner of 220, Zaid Elia, is also the co-owner of a Detroit destination restaurant, Parc, at Campus Martius, and emphasized to commissioners that Birmingham’s ordinance had to change to level out the playing field.
In their wisdom, they did just that, while also enacting mechanisms to quickly bring an errant operator to the table. In early January, city attorney Tim Currier presented commissioners with an ordinance amendment that would permit restaurateurs to have entertainment with special land use permit approval. In response, city officials will be able to act swiftly if an issue arises. Law enforcement will have more ability to cite for violations and the city manager will have the authority to immediately schedule a public hearing at the next city commission meeting to see if action is needed to rescind the license or some other alternative, in accordance with the code.
Allowing businesses the opportunity to flourish and compete, within the scope of the law, is in everyone’s best interest.