Buzz is already building around a proposed beer garden in Baton Rouge’s blossoming Mid City.
The bar concept seems a natural fit, not to mention a catalyst for plans to revitalize the blighted Mid City area by turning Government Street into something that evokes New Orleans’ Magazine Street.
But when 33-year-old homeowner Corey Smith heard the news of the proposed bar, his heart dropped. Smith, who bought his Capital Heights home with his wife, Toni, 30, three years ago, lives a stone’s throw from the bar’s location — across a narrow residential street from the now vacant site on the corner of Government Street and Steele Boulevard. With a 2-year-old son, Corey Smith said, he now feels he has no choice but to sell his home in the neighborhood he loves.
“We moved there because being in Mid City is awesome, and we love being close to everything. But a bar is a whole different story,” Smith said. “I don’t want my kid playing in the front yard when there’s a bar across the street.”
Mid City residents are already rallying for the new bar proposed by Dave Remmetter and Brian Baiamonte, who are the brains behind Chelsea’s Cafe, a popular restaurant, bar and concert venue on Perkins Road, and The Radio Bar, which has anchored much of the improvements and development along Government Street.
“Ninety-nine percent of our neighbors are supportive. Everyone is really excited about the buzz,” said Tyler Hicks, Capital Heights civic association president. “We are a residential neighborhood, but Government Street is a major thoroughfare through the city with lots of opportunity for business. This is something new and exciting in our backyard.”
Smith said there’s a difference between wanting to live within walking distance to a bar and living right next to one. He said he expects cars to be lined down his street and drunken drivers to be cutting through his narrow neighborhood to avoid Government Street. He also noted that the concept of the bar, a beer garden, calls for outdoor space, which means he can expect noise until 2 a.m.
“If it gets even half the popularity of Radio Bar, which I think it will far exceed that, then it will be a nightmare for us,” Smith said.
Before the owners can move forward with construction of the bar, they have to get approval to rezone the lot for a bar. The planning commission will vote Sept. 21. But Smith said he already feels defeated and is preparing to sell his house.
Smith’s allies are those living closest to the bar. Directly adjacent to the bar is 82-year-old Evelyn Terrell, who has lived in the house for 31 years. Her daughter, Sindy Terrell, stays with her most nights.
“My biggest concern is her safety,” Sindy Terrell said of her mother. “If people are drunk enough, there’s just no telling what they could do.”
Evelyn Terrell was distraught about the idea of hearing music and voices from the bar until 2 a.m. while she’s trying to sleep a few yards away.
Ernie Ballard, who also lives on Steele Boulevard with his wife and three young children, wrote a letter to his council representative, C. Denise Marcelle, saying he also opposes the bar.
“My main concerns come with the safety of my children and the many other young children who live on the block of Steele between Government and Capital Heights,” he wrote Marcelle, adding that many of his neighbors have children. “This just isn’t the right location … and loud talking and music playing until 2 a.m. is not what my young children need to hear while trying to sleep.”
Baiamonte said neighbors’ concerns are heavy on their minds as they work on designs for the bar.
He said plans include an 8-foot wooden fence with trees and landscaping. The bar will be separated from Terrell’s home by 60 feet of parking.
He also said they’re researching sound equipment that will limit noise from traveling.
Baiamonte said the site is expected to have an entrance on Steele Boulevard and an exit on Government Street, which he thinks will reduce traffic problems.
“It’s not going to be a dance club. We’re not going to have live music, necessarily. We’re not going to turn up the radio real loud,” co-owner Remmetter said. “We’re just offering a cold beer on a hot afternoon to the people who live in that area.”
Government Street is one of those rare areas in the parish where commercial businesses and bars are nestled in traditional residential neighborhoods with single-family homes.
Oftentimes, when a new bar is proposed near a residential neighborhood, it’s met with overwhelming opposition by surrounding homeowners concerned about safety, traffic and noise.
But when Radio Bar was proposed a few years ago on Government Street, the residents were supportive of what they saw as a more palatable option for drawing people to the area than the pawn shops and payday loan businesses that have been there for years.
In a rare case of support, dozens of residents showed up at a planning and zoning meeting to endorse the bar, and no one spoke in opposition.
Barrington Neil, an attorney who lives with his wife two houses down from Radio Bar in Ogden Park, said the addition of the bar has been transformative for the neighborhood in a positive way.
“As far as I’m concerned, Radio Bar has been nothing but a plus to the neighborhood,” Neil said. “The bar attracts really high-quality clientele. It may be different if it was a bar with a bad reputation.”
He said he doesn’t mind cars parking in his front yard, and the flood of people who come to the neighborhood for the bar have pushed out panhandlers and other people who “used to wander that neighborhood and engage in mischief.”