Tuscaloosa City Council adds new amendment for gastropubs, bars

Bar

By WVUA 23 News Reporters Jabaree Prewitt and Erin Patterson

By unanimous vote, the Tuscaloosa City Council now has more power over the city’s bars and gastropubs after ordinance amendments were signed Tuesday.

The Council used the amendments to change full-service operating hours for gastropubs, which serve food until a certain time and then close their kitchens and serve only alcohol. Before the vote, gastropubs could serve food until midnight, but the new rule pushes that back to 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., gastropubs may only serve alcohol until close. These hours will apply only to new businesses, not existing ones.

Some prominent gastropub examples are Innisfree on University Boulevard, Bear Trap on the Strip and World of Beer on University Boulevard in downtown Tuscaloosa.

Tuscaloosa Director of Planning Ashley Crites said the city is also swapping some portions of the city bars and gastropubs to operate under a conditional use license, meaning they must be approved by the Tuscaloosa City Council before they can operate.

In addition, the city has a limit for the number of bars or gastropubs operating in certain areas, including the Strip next to the University of Alabama and parts of downtown Tuscaloosa. These rules include only one bar or tavern is permitted per block face, and the occupancy of the bar/tavern is limited to 100 occupants.

Any business operating currently is grandfathered in and not beholden to the new spacing rules.

Conditional use criteria include occupancy, hours of operation for a bar/tavern, kitchen hours versus bar hours for a gastropub, how close similar places are to the proposed business, Tuscaloosa’s public safety plan and the business’s plan to reduce potential nuisances like parking, noise or crowding. If the business meets the conditional use criteria, it will be approved and allowed to open.

Crites said that in the past most bars and gastropubs operated under a standard permitted use license, meaning there was less oversight.

“So this means that the City Council will get to authorize how a new bar or gastropub operates, or whether they can operate, so it will be something they will get to review and ultimately vote on,” Crites said. “There were not real restrictions, so we were starting to see some challenges on how (businesses) told us they were going to operate and they how they started to operate. So the City Council chose to take some of that authority and require a review of it.”

Bear Trap owner Daniel McCullum said he wanted some clarification because he was concerned he’d be forced to change his operating hours.

“I work hard running my business the way I’ve been doing it,” he said. “I haven’t had any issues or problems at my establishment and I would like to continue running the business.”

McCullum said because his restaurant is based outdoors on a rooftop, morning and afternoon operating hours aren’t feasible, especially in the middle of summer.

Crites said each situation would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but the city’s goal in changing the ordinance is providing more flexibility for gastropubs already operating.

Brandon Owens, who attended the council meeting, said he’s been working with bar owners around downtown and the Strip and was also after clarification on whether or not the rules would apply to new businesses only.

Crites said the new rules grandfather in currently operating businesses, but if a business goes vacant or dormant for six months, the new owner will be required to adhere to the new rules.

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