City licensing staff wants to take some of the fizz out of Tonic of Uptown, a new hotspot that has generated complaints from CARAG neighbors.
Despite problem-free inspections over the past two months, Tonic should have its liquor license downgraded, city Licensing Inspector Ken Ziegler told a City Council committee Aug. 25. Such a downgrading would force the 1420 W. Lake St. establishment to close at 11 p.m. instead of the current 2 a.m.
Ziegler’s recommendation is the latest salvo in a battle over Tonic’s compliance with city code. The establishment has already been fined $750 for selling too much alcohol compared to food — the city’s distinction between a bar and a restaurant. Tonic’s owners are appealing the fine.
Nearby residents have complained that Tonic, licensed as a restaurant, is actually a nightclub, and has caused livability problems, such as noise and drunken patrons. City licensing began monitoring Tonic in April, just one month after it opened.
Tonic spokesperson Blois Olson has denied the city’s claim that Tonic operates as a nightclub, despite the presence of a cover charge, dancing and beer tubs.
Olson has previously maintained that since meetings with licensing staff, management has brought Tonic up to code. Ziegler’s report supports Olson, noting that July and August inspections found no code violations. Still, Ziegler is recommending a downgrade from a Class B license to a Class E license.
Class B rules permit live music and "dancing and singing by patrons of the establishment." A Class E license allows radio, TV, taped music and jukeboxes, but prohibits "all other devices producing musical sound."
Ziegler said the downgrade would help alleviate neighborhood problems. He wrote, "The use of the banquet area as a public dance floor has altered the basic nature of the establishment from that of a restaurant to that of a nightclub, which is prohibited by the ordinance because the premise is located within (500) feet of a residentially zoned area."
For their part, Tonic management submitted a request to the city to amend their business plan, which was used to obtain their license. The change would add language referring to a dance floor, not a banquet area. Ziegler recommended the Council deny Tonic’s request.
Tonic’s lawyer Jack Perry told members of the Council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee that the downgrade was actually a license revocation, and an administrative law judge should preside over rulings, not the Council.
After hearing lengthy arguments from Perry and Assistant City Attorney Henry Reimer, the committee voted to recommend that the full City Council refer the matter to an administrative law judge.