During the January 17th Tuscaloosa Pre-Council meeting, there was a lively discussion about gastropubs. It ensued when the item on the Council’s agenda that set January 31st as the date for a public hearing to consider approval of a gastropub at the Druid City Social location was brought up. Currently the venue is being used for private functions only.
Brandon Hanks, who has organized farm parties for sororities, is one of Druid City Social‘s managers. Hanks, or one of his associates, is likely to comment during the public hearing, if the item remains on the Council’s agenda.
Tuscaloosa Police Department‘s Chief Brent Blankley said, “I’d like to remind the Council that gastropubs have had issues–that they have been turning into full-fledged bars.” He said the food served has been “questionable.” He added that there were already a lot of bars in the area where Druid City Social is located. “We do not need another bar down there.”
Tuscaloosa Fire Department‘s Chief Randy Smith said, “the Fire Department is not in favor of this. The way it’s set up now, they are way exceeding occupancy. They are not able to show us that they are capable of keeping the number of people inside correct.”
Blankley added, “In my opinion the term ‘gastropub’ in reality means you’re a bar.”
When the rules for restaurants and bars were discussed in 2017, Kelly Fitts, as reported by the Tuscaloosa News‘ Jason Morton, expressed concern about the bar Innisfree. Morton wrote:
Historic district residents, however, want to ensure any proposed rules protect them from the onslaught of drunken college students who trample through their streets while attempting to stumble home.
Numerous residents have told of having property broken or destroyed or waking to the sounds of an inebriated stranger banging on doors in an effort to get “home,” with the knocker being confused about where they are.
Used condoms have been found in front yards. Bushes, trees and the sides of homes have been used as makeshift urinals.
And, on more than one occasion, historic district homeowners have awakened to find unwanted visitors sleeping in their homes or on their porches.
While Fitts said she would prefer to see bars like Innisfree shut down, the main goal for her and historic district residents is to keep new ones from popping up within proximity to their homes.
Innisfree‘s business model was that of a restaurant that “morphed” into a bar. It was “grandfathered in” when the new rules that established the hours of operation for “gastropubs” were enacted.
WVUA 23 News Reporters Jabaree Prewitt and Erin Patterson wrote in 2021 about the amendments passed by the city that changed the full-service operating hours for gastropubs. They wrote:
Some prominent gastropub examples are Innisfree on University Boulevard, Bear Trap on the Strip and World of Beer on University Boulevard in downtown Tuscaloosa.
During the Pre-Council meeting, Council member Norman Crow said that the Council needed to tighten the rules on gastropubs to bring more accountability to them. He said, “I’m tired of talking over and over about certain problems and not trying to address them. If you want to be a gastropub and sell food, I’m all in favor of that. But, if you are using this because you want to become a bar and are not conforming to regulations, the Council should discuss this.”
As the Franklin Stove Blog had previously reported:
Essentially many Gastropubs have been a restaurant that morphs into a bar, allowing minors to be served food until a set hour. Closing a Gastropub to minors, when it has changed into a bar, has been at the discretion of its operators. Drink specials promote alcohol sales that frequently attract under-aged drinkers.
The Duck Test might well be applied to gastropubs in T-Town. “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” Many gastropubs are probably just bars.
3 thoughts on “If it looks like a duck…”
The Tuscaloosa Thread‘s Brittany Marshall reported: “[Mayor Walt] Maddox and other city leaders see packed-out bars in the area as part of the problem, and he said some local businesses are disguising themselves as restaurants during the day so they can have a much higher-than-normal occupancy limits when they turn into a bar at night.
“‘If I have a restaurant liquor license, after a certain time of the day, I can morph into a bar and remain under that restaurant liquor license and the moment I morph into a bar, my occupancy is allowed to grow exponentially. Under state law, the city can only grant the license, we have no ability to retract the license. One of the things I’m certainly looking at is, if you come in and say you are a restaurant, how do we hold you to that occupancy.’
“Maddox said he believes the issue will be corrected soon and the city is working with the Alabama legislature to make that happen.
“‘You have a lot of places in Tuscaloosa, not just The Strip, that masquerade as a restaurant but they’re really a bar and are protected by the state,’ Maddox said. ‘We’re not tolerating this, we never tolerated it, but certainly this has become hyper-sensitive and we’re going to be looking at a broad range of action.”
The public hearing for the gastropub at the Druid City Social location was tabled during the Council’s January 31st meeting. It is on the agenda for Valentine’s Day, February 14th. “The property owner was not present to answer questions from the Council.”
The Council denied the application as a gastropub for Druid City Social. It was introduced by Councilor Wilson and seconded by Councilor Lanier. The votes were the following: President Pro Tem Tyner and Councilors Howard, Crow, and Faile—no; Councilor Wilson and Councilor Lanier—yes.