Six businesses targeted to have their alcohol license suspended have instead worked out agreements with the city of Brookhaven to bring them into compliance with the new alcohol ordinance.

The agreements, which had not been finalized by press time, state the venues will remove their DJ booths, stages and dance floors, according to city officials. By doing so, they will no longer be classified as “entertainment venues” and subject to the hefty $100,000 alcohol license fees mandated under the revised alcohol ordinance that went into effect this year. Entertainment venues are also prohibited from selling booze on Sundays.

City Attorney Chris Balch talks with owners of Nina’s Bar & Grill at the May 14 Alcohol Board hearing. (Dyana Bagby)

The agreements also state that if the businesses are later found to have any of the three items, their alcohol licenses will be immediately revoked, according to Assistant City Manager Steve Chapman.

The agreements were discussed at the May 14 Alcohol Board hearing, where the businesses were set to appeal their suspensions. Another hearing is set for May 29, where the agreements are expected to be finalized by the board.

The owners of Acapulco Tropical, El Ocho Billiards and La Casa Restaurant & Bar talked with the city attorney before the May 14 hearing and said they would remove the three items.

German Barreda, owner of El Ocho, said there was no way to fight the city.

“Even if you win, they will come back and amend the ordinance next year,” he said.

Pedro Cordova, owner of La Casa Restaurant & Bar, agreed.

“I know I am not going to win against the city,” he said.

Dany Acosta, the owner of Confetis Restaurant & Bar, spoke at the Alcohol Board hearing through a friend who translated English and Spanish after the board could not get a certified translator at the last minute. Acosta said he shouldn’t have his alcohol license suspended and disagreed he had a dance floor.

After some discussion with Balch, however, Acosta and the owner of Pegasus, seated in the room awaiting her turn to appeal, agreed to talk with Chapman in a back room, away from the board, to work out the agreement to come into compliance.

The owner of Nina’s Bar & Grill attended the May 14 hearing but had not submitted a written appeal before the meeting. She said she thought she was just supposed to show up at the May 14 hearing and had closed her business for a month awaiting the date.

Balch sat with her and discussed her options to come into compliance, which she agreed to. Balch also told the board that the city would begin sending out its alcohol license renewals and other information in English and Spanish.

The owners of the other venues did not speak at all at the hearing and had apparently reached an agreement with the city beforehand.

“These clubs misinterpreted or unintentionally violated their renewals … and we are accepting they did this on an unintentional level,” Chapman said in an interview. “We are waiving all penalties because we want to make sure we are working with businesses in the city.”

Attorney Cary Wiggins, representing Arif Lounge, will appeal its suspension at the May 29 hearing. Wiggins is the lawyer for the owners of Medusa Restaurant & Lounge, XS Restaurant & Lounge and Josephine’s in their alcohol license suspension appeals.

Wiggins is also representing the three venues in a federal lawsuit against the city alleging the new alcohol ordinance discriminates against African-American owned businesses.

The city denies the allegations and is represented by Scott Bergthold, a Tennessee attorney who specializes in municipal laws cracking down on sexually oriented businesses. Chapman said Bergthold was hired through the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, a property and liability insurance fund paid through the Georgia Municipal Association.

Wiggins said XS, Medusa and Josephine’s were not offered the same option as the other businesses to simply come into compliance by entering into a written agreement to remove their DJ booths, dance floors or stage.

City Attorney Chris Balch said he told Wiggins he was willing to work with him and his clients to bring them into compliance.

“They never expressed any interest in it,” Balch said at the May 14 hearing.

“I told Cary from the beginning I am willing to talk to him about bringing his folks into compliance. They have no interest in it. They would rather fight us to the death,” Balch added. “Of course that’s my interpretation of their conduct, not theirs.”

The city created the “entertainment venues” category because they say these kinds of businesses are causing the most crime in the city. Most of the businesses are located in and near the Northeast Plaza shopping center on Buford Highway. Many police incidents are reported in their parking lots.

To cover the costs of providing extra police coverage, the city said it needed to charge the exorbitant fees to pay for those resources.
When asked how removing a DJ booth, for instance, reduces crime, Chapman said, “That’s a question for the police.”

“That’s subjective,” he added.

City spokesperson Burke Brennan added that removing DJ booths, dance floors and stages is part of several measures the city has instituted to reduce crime, such as also cutting back bar hours.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.