Santa Fe Tapas in the 1300 block of St. Charles Avenue will have its alcohol license suspended for a month starting in mid-March as part of a punishment for breaking a 2013 agreement with the city of New Orleans to reduce the impact of the crowds it attracts on weekends, a city board has decided.
The large crowds that congregate at Thalia Street and St. Charles on the weekends have been an issue for the Alcohol Beverage Control Board for years, with neighboring businesses complaining of excessive noise, traffic congestion and littering.
The former Daiquiri Place Cafe at the same corner was placed under sanctions by the city as far back as 2007. When the city took its alcohol license away in 2012, the owner blamed people attending weekend second-line parades for the problems.
After the Daiquiri Place Cafe shut down — its building has since become an expansion site for Crescent City Auction Galleries across the street — the city turned its attention in 2013 to Santa Fe Tapas, on the other side of Thalia Street.
Santa Fe owner Orhan Ergun said at the time that he was focused on creating a well-known vegan and vegetarian menu and that the city’s charges were simply “guilt by association” for being located so close to the gatherings the shuttered business had created.
After months of negotiation, city attorneys crafted a consent judgment in October 2013 that said Santa Fe could continue operating under certain conditions: Private security must be hired to handle the crowds, litter must be picked up and go-cups must be printed with the Santa Fe logo to discourage littering.
In September 2014, Santa Fe reappeared on the docket of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, charged with violating the October 2013 consent judgment by allowing improper conduct that creates a public nuisance.
“It has allowed activities on or about the premises that place the lives and safety of many of the patrons and citizens at risk,” according to the city’s petition for sanctions against Santa Fe. “In addition, the noise emanating from the establishment has a negative impact on the quality of life of the neighbors surrounding the premises. … Further, the permittee has allowed its patrons to litter and loiter outside the premises and park illegally in the neighborhood.”
In subsequent meetings of the board, Deputy City Attorney Dan MacNamara and Santa Fe attorney David Halpern never discussed the specifics of the allegations against the business; instead, they told the board for several months that they were preparing for a trial on the case. Officials said in November that they had 17 witnesses prepared to testify, but the case was postponed once more.
Then, at the Jan. 20 meeting of the alcohol board, MacNamara announced that a new agreement with Santa Fe had been reached.
Under the new agreement, Santa Fe’s license will be suspended for 30 days, from March 23 to April 21.
A number of other conditions also apply:
- The business may no longer offer “two for one” or “three for one” drink specials on Friday evenings, Saturdays or Sundays.
- The business must have a police officer on duty on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
- All go-cups must be clearly labeled with the Santa Fe Tapas logo, and they must not be distributed at all on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.
- Santa Fe must arrange to have all trash left in the surrounding block each night, even if not from its customers, picked up by 7 a.m. the next day.
- All the terms of the previous consent judgment remain in force.
- If Santa Fe is found to violate the new judgment, it faces a mandatory six-month suspension of its license.
As before, MacNamara did not describe in the Jan. 20 meeting the alleged violations of the previous agreement with the alcohol board, but he noted that a number of witnesses had showed up for the hearing who would not need to testify as a result of the consent judgment.
“On behalf of the city, I want to thank all the witnesses who came and have been coming repeatedly on this case for their time and for their patience on the resolution of this matter,” MacNamara said.
Halpern made no comments, except to thank the board after the hearing concluded.
Santa Fe’s owner, Ergun, declined to discuss the decision in a phone call afterward, but the restaurant acknowledged patrons’ concerns in a posting on its Facebook page.
“We did not comment, since as most of you know we have a lot to say — but would rather not,” the post stated. “On the bright side, YES we are open and serving our delicious menu (vegan & carnivore) with a full bar and our selective wine list.”