When it comes to senseless regulations, Kansas City takes the cake, says Westport businessman Bill Nigro. Especially the good folks at Regulated Industries aka Liquor Control.
It all began four years back, when Liquor Control pushed through a rule that requires separate bars that share a single license in the same building to leave the passageway between them open.
Which in Nigro’s case is a door…but not just any door.
“The Dark Horse Tavern and the Firefly both operate out of the space I was in for Torres Pizza,” he says. “They both lease the space from me but I hadn’t been using the back half of it where Firefly now is for quite a few years. And when the Dark Horse guys wanted to expand back into that unused room, the city granted us an expansion liquor license to cover both spaces. So we gave the room a new name and called it Firefly.”
That went down around Thanksgiving 2008.
Something about not wanting to give the impression more new liquor licenses were being granted in Westport, Nigro says.
“The ordinance worked okay for the Foundry and McCoy’s because their doorway goes from dining room to dining room,” Nigro says. “But in our case, it goes from the Dark Horse dining room to the kitchen, then to an office, a liquor room and to another dining room. So leaving it open causes a security breach for us.”
Nigro says he tried to warn Majors before the ordinance passed it wouldn’t work.
“And he basically told me, tough luck,” Nigro says.
“They called me six months ago and told me our door was locked and it had to stay unlocked,” Nigro says. “And they gave me a verbal warning. Since then we have spent no less than $1,000 a month to have a doorman there to walk people to our restaurant area.”
Raising the question, why would anyone want to cut thru in the first place.
“They don’t,” Nigro says. “Nobody’s ever asked to go through there to the Firefly. But if we leave it open people are going to walk in and it interferes with the operation of our business.
“The Fire Department is laughing about the whole thing because it’s not even a fire exit. Plus the Firefly has a cover charge because we have live music and we don’t want people sneaking in for free from the Dark Horse.”
The odds of a common sense compromise?
“We’re tried to pacify the city about the door by putting signage on it,” Nigro says. “The city made us put a sign on one side that says, ‘To Firefly’ and on the other side it says, ‘To Dark Horse’ ”
Which seemed to suffice until two weeks back at 2:10 am when for the sixth time in four months Liquor Control descended on Nigro’s building and found the door was locked.
“It was locked because we were closing the back room down,” Nigro says. “The band from the Firefly even had their stuff in that hallway. But they busted us and said we have to close down for a day.
“So now I have to tell 10 people who live paycheck to paycheck they’re out of work for a day because Regulated Industries is over regulating,” Nigro says. “So I appealed the one day closure and my hearing is in mid October.”
Majors did not return a call for this column.
“Every bar and restaurant in town has a right to control access to their different rooms. Why is it any different for two Westport establishments or anybody else in town? Why do we have people designing laws that interfere with a business’s operation? The city just can’t make stuff up that doesn’t make any sense.”
Or can they?