The Iron Bar got the green light on Wednesday to extend its liquor license next door, to create the Iron Bistro on South Street.
But the light turns red at 11:30 pm every Friday and Saturday, and on other nights at 11 pm, when alcohol sales must stop at the proposed jazz restaurant.
That 6-0 decision by the Morristown Council, after six hours of testimony and debate spanning two hearings, was greeted by cheers from residents who had opposed the applicant’s request to serve liquor until 2 am, when other downtown bars send their patrons home.
“We have an approval. We have to review it,” said Robert C. Williams, the lawyer representing Iron Bar owners Jimmy Cavanaugh and Darrell Remlinger. Cavanaugh declined to comment.
Because the Iron Bar has no violations of state liquor laws, Williams had argued, the Iron Bistro deserves the same operating hours granted to the newly renovated Office Tavern Grill, which he said was allowed to double its seating capacity.
Photos by Scott Schlosser. Please click icon below for captions.
He also contended that 15 objections raised against the Iron Bistro were insignificant in a town of 18,500.
That did not sit too well with those objectors, who jousted with the attorney while testifying about late night quality-of-life issues caused by boozy patrons of Morristown’s teeming bar scene.
And it really rankled Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid.
“That’s our job, to listen to the residents,” she said, warning that Morristown could get stuck with vacant million-dollar condos if owners’ concerns about drunk drivers, public urination and other misbehavior are ignored.
In 2012, Jimmy Cavanaugh received council permission to expand his Iron Bar liquor license next door to open a Mexican restaurant, the Gran Cantina. An 11 pm alcohol curfew was imposed for that venture, which never got off the ground.
The Iron Bistro will fill a larger space, comprising two vacant storefronts.
The extra half hour of drinking time– to 11:30 on Fridays and Saturdays–was suggested by Councilman Michael Elms and seconded by Stefan Armington.
Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris, participating by telephone, unsuccessfully proposed cutoffs of 1 am on weekends and midnight on weeknights.
Other conditions for the Iron Bistro include storing trash indoors, rather than in a back alley, and restoring the area outside the establishment to “pristine condition” by 7 am daily.
When the council attempted to require one security guard for every 50 weekend patrons–as it had done for the Gran Cantina application–it was the lawyer’s turn to get indignant.
“It’s almost insulting,” Williams said. “We’re opening a restaurant, and we have to have four security guards?”
The council backed off on that one.
But definitions proved slippery all evening. A promotional video by the Iron Bistro team had pitched the establishment as a jazz and blues venue for a mature crowd, with a menu of such exotic fare as wild boar.
ALL THAT JAZZ
Dan Collins, a resident of the 40 Park luxury condos, claimed wild boar can be found across the street at the restaurant Origin. He questioned the credentials of a photographer/anthropologist who testified for the project, and the credibility of the entire Iron Bistro team based on its video–which falsely implied support by Morristown Medical Center and the Vail Mansion.
Another institution depicted in that video, the Mayo Performing Arts Center, never gave an endorsement either, testified Michael Dundon, an MPAC employee.
Virtually everyone spoke in favor of a jazz venue–one with earlier closing hours, akin to the highly rated Shanghai Jazz in Madison.
“Show respect for real jazz as a form of art, not as an excuse to get intoxicated,” said resident Sergio Burani.
Music featured at Shanghai Jazz is not “real jazz,” according to Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris, who said she and other black residents yearn to patronize Sunday jazz brunches and other musical events at the Iron Bistro. African Americans lack such a place in Morristown, she said.
“I want to be included and feel like I really belong,” said the councilwoman.
But Councilman Stefan Armington said he was not sure how much jazz of any kind would happen at the Iron Bistro, based on lawyer Robert Williams’ statement that “this is a restaurant, and jazz is a complement to the restaurant.”
Jimmy Cavanaugh has invested nearly $1 million into this project, the attorney said.
‘THINGS ARE NOT GETTING BETTER’
The only voice not heard during the evening was Alison Deeb’s. The councilwoman, whose Fourth Ward includes many of the objectors, was absent.
Watching intently from the back rows, however, were members of the Walsh family.
Last year the council dealt them an 11 pm liquor cutoff on a license expansion for Tashmoo, a bar they own on DeHart Street. The year before, the council shot down a restaurant/bar/bowling alley the Walshes proposed for the same location.
Brian Walsh declined to comment on Wednesday’s proceedings. But Council President Rebecca Feldman quoted from the 2012 council decision against the Walshes’ bowling alley to explain her opposition to late-night alcohol at the Iron Bistro.
Little has changed in the last two years, Feldman said, noting that drunk drivers have broken a tree on Speedwell Avenue and taken out a newly planted traffic island at Elm and South streets.
“Fundamentally, the noise, the peeing outside, the drunk drivers… these things are not getting better,” the council president said.
“Another 4,700 square feet of licensed premises open until 2 am is not what the area can sustain.”