Artmosphere Bistro in Lafayette receives 6-month reprieve on liquor license requirement _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Artmosphere Bistro is pictured Tuesday, September 1, 2015, at the corner of East Convent and Johnston Street in Lafayette, La.

City-parish officials may soon revisit a 12-year-old ban on new bars in downtown Lafayette, opening the door for allowing new venues under certain circumstances.

No specific proposal is on the table, but the Downtown Development Authority and some members of the City-Parish Council and the City-Parish Zoning Commission are eyeing possible changes.

The discussions have been sparked by the predicament of Artmosphere Bistro, an artsy downtown music venue trying to secure a bar permit because the establishment is struggling to keep food sales above 50 percent — a requirement to keep selling alcohol under its restaurant liquor permit.

Artmosphere owner Beryl Moody has been operating with the restaurant liquor permit for several years but has come under increasing pressure from the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, which wants her to meet the 50 percent food sales requirement or give up the liquor license.

Artmosphere is set for its annual food sales audit in October, and the City-Parish Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to ask ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert to delay the audit pending possible changes to allow Artmosphere to be permitted as a bar.

The council’s request carries no legal weight, but Moody said Hebert has already consented to hold off, considering his office is cracking down on Artmosphere only to enforce the local law banning new bars downtown.

“If we can resolve the local issue, he is in favor of keeping us open,” Moody said.

The council in 2003 approved the bar ban at a time when a string of new clubs were opening along Jefferson Street downtown, raising concerns about the area becoming Lafayette’s version of Bourbon Street. Only downtown properties with bar permits when the ban passed can continue to operate as bars.

The council’s action Tuesday comes after the Lafayette Zoning Commission last month deferred action on a request by Artmosphere to be carved out of the Central Business District, the zoning classification for downtown.

The change would free Artmosphere to seek the bar permit because it would no longer be subject to the downtown bar ban if it were not in the CBD.

Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris said he is sympathetic to Artmosphere’s plight but does not want other business owners unhappy with downtown’s rules searching for relief through a reclassification of their property.

He said the DDA supports revisiting the bar ban and would like to explore several options.

One possibility would be creating a new class of bar permit for live music venues, Norris said, and another might be to lift the current ban on new bars and then put in its place new regulatory tools to better address such issues as noise complaints or safety concerns.

“The whole intent is can we get an alternative system in place,” Norris said.

City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin, who represents the downtown area, said he feels the bar ban should remain but an exception should be made for Artmosphere.

He said Artmosphere, on the corner of Johnston and Convent streets, seems to have little connection to the string of bars lining Jefferson Street, the main strip through downtown.

“The moratorium, in its original intent, was designed for bars on Jefferson Street,” he said. “She is really not in the heart of downtown.”