Pirates Alley Cafe, popular French Quarter bar, could shut down by June without license _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Pirate Alley Café in the French Quarter may, without a city-approved zoning change, could lose its liquor license and shut down next month according to the owner. Business was brisk there Monday, May 23, 2016.

A popular French Quarter establishment that has long been a restaurant on paper but a bar in practice may now legally serve more booze than food, its owners said Wednesday.

City officials approved a special designation this week for Pirates Alley Café, which is nestled in the historic alley between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo.

The new designation, which effectively gives the business permission to operate as a bar, means it may remain open without having to serve meals out of its 398-square-foot space.

By law, a restaurant must derive at least 50 percent of its revenue from food, not alcohol sales.

The Department of Safety and Permits initially denied the bar’s request for the new designation, in part because it had not provided documentation showing that its alcohol sales outpaced food sales over a sustained period of time.

Without a city permit, owner Tony Seville said, Pirates Alley would have been unable to receive a permit from the state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board and would have been forced to close.

Seville and co-owner Thais Solano later gave the city documents showing that 76 percent of sales over the past decade were for liquor, with only 23 percent for food. They also submitted the results of a state investigation that found the business had purchased less food than it claimed to sell on at least two occasions when it was trying to prove it was really a restaurant.

Safety and Permits Director Jared Munster subsequently reversed his previous denial. Given that reversal, the owners will not protest Munster’s original decision to the seven-member Board of Zoning Adjustments, as they had planned.

Proof that the business had long been a bar in practice was needed to qualify under rules that allow city businesses that have operated outside of their official legal designation for a certain number of years to continue to operate as such.

Seville praised public officials Wednesday. “Both the city and the state have been extremely helpful and patient throughout this whole process,” he said.

He credited an “outpouring of community support” for the approval. As of Wednesday, more than 2,200 people had signed a petition urging the city to keep the bar open.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.