The Morrie, a dining and entertainment venue for the former Au Cochon and Arthur Avenue locations in the Palladium Building on Old Woodward in Birmingham, received unanimous approval for a special land use permit (SLUP) and final site plan by city commissioners at their meeting on Monday, May 14, but not without some concern about potential dancing at the new establishment.
Planning director Jana Ecker said that the applicant, Aaron Belen, of AFB Hospitality Group, is planning to combine both sites, located at 260 N. Old Woodward, for a restaurant that will be almost 8,000 square feet, have 214 indoor seats and 16 outdoor seats on a raised platform. The two front doors would be maintained, Ecker said, as will the nanowall windows, which allow for open air dining during nicer months.
Inside, 33 of the proposed seats will surround a large central bar, with a raised performance stage behind, which will showcase live bands and other live entertainment, similar to Belen's Royal Oak restaurant, The Morrie. Belen plans on 16 seats on an outdoor platform. In both locations, The Morrie is a casual restaurant serving eclectic neighborhood and roadhouse-style cuisine.
“They're planning on just cleaning up the exterior, making it simpler,” Ecker said, with the interior floor plan staying the same.
“They are proposing entertainment, with a house band playing generational music. They are not proposing any dancing,” she said of the proposal. She also said the entertainment would not just be on weekends, but at brunch, and on many weeknights, and could vary and include acoustic duos and comedians “from time to time.”
Commissioner Mark Nickita asked if the exterior seating took into account the new sidewalk design, and Ecker said it did.
Belen introduced himself to the commission, and said he would be the tenant in the Palladium building and the owner of the restaurant. Belen said The Morrie will be open seven days a week, for lunch, brunch and dinner. During the week it will be open from noon until 11; and weekends from noon until 2 a.m. Then he threw the commission, and Ecker, a zinger.
“Technically, there will be a dance floor. We will seat tables and move them at night for dancing,” he said.
“So you will have a dance floor?” asked commissioner Rackeline Hoff.
“Yes, in front of the bar,” he responded.
His architect, Kevin Biddison, said a 10-foot by 10-foot area in front of the bar, would “sometimes” be a dance floor, and sometimes it wouldn't, but it wouldn't be a separate wood dance floor. “It's a concrete floor,” he said.
Hoff asked them if they anticipated doing any soundproofing, and Biddison said they did, by adding panels on the walls and spraying soundproofing material on the ceiling.
Nickita was concerned about the dance floor, and asked if the discrepancy regarding it got approved by the planning board, “because we've been very careful about entertainment.”
“When it went to the planning board, no, they said there will not be a dance floor, they will not be moving tables for dancing, people will just sing along” to the band.
Commissioner Patty Bordman said that while she supports The Morrie because she believes the city needs fresh ideas, “I am concerned about the discrepancy on the dance floor.”
“A SLUP is a contract with the city,” pointed out Nickita. “It has to be as crystal clear as possible.”
City attorney Tim Currier said it would be permissible to pass the SLUP for the restaurant without a dance floor, and then have them come back for an amendment for clarification.
Commissioner Stuart Sherman liked that approach, noting that would allow them to move forward to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.