Morristown council nixes bar expansion, saying downtown at saturation point

Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh, far right, listens as the Morristown council rejects his liquor license expansion. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh, far right, listens as the Morristown council rejects his liquor license expansion. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh, far right, listens as the Morristown council rejects his liquor license expansion. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh, far right, listens as the Morristown council rejects his liquor license expansion. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

By Kevin Coughlin

Questioning whether a proposed Mexican restaurant really aimed to be a bar, and citing concerns about the “over-saturation” of downtown drinking establishments, the Morristown council on Tuesday shot down a request to expand the Iron Bar’s liquor license into the new venture.

The vote was 6-1, with Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris casting the only vote for expansion of the license.

Councilman Robert Iannaccone, right, explains his vote while Council Members Michael Elms and Michelle Harris listen. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Councilman Robert Iannaccone, right, explains his vote while Council Members Michael Elms and Michelle Harris listen. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Robert C. Williams, attorney for the applicant, Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh, said they would appeal the decision to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

“It’s a mixed-use neighborhood. And everyone has to get along. What’s the right balance? That’s really the question we have… I don’t think they have satisfied the argument that this is the right balance,”  Council President Stefan Armington said before the vote, which followed five hours of testimony over two nights.

“Enough is enough,” added Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the South Street location of these bars. “We should be concerned about the amount of alcohol being concentrated in this segment of town.”

Council President Stefan Armington and Assistant Town Attorney Elnardo Webster II at Gran Cantina hearing. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Council President Stefan Armington and Assistant Town Attorney Elnardo Webster II at Gran Cantina hearing. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Cavanaugh sought to extend the liquor license shared by the Iron Bar and his recently opened beer hall, Revolution, to an adjoining storefront formerly occupied by the Parm Centro restaurant.

He has proposed a Mexican restaurant called Gran Cantina.  It would bring at least 25 jobs, his attorney said.

Reiterating concerns raised for several years, residents of nearby apartments, luxury condos and homes in the Historic District testified about late-night noise and unruly behavior by bar patrons at closing time on weekends.

Eight establishments that serve liquor sit in close proximity on South and DeHart streets.

“I’m very tired…of hearing about Mr. Cavanaugh’s rights,” said resident Marie Rozan. “There are probably 500 people affected by this. What about our rights?”

WATCH VIDEO OF THE MEETING

‘YOU HAVE NO FACTS’

Williams called residents’ sworn statements “hearsay,” and labeled the council’s decision “arbitrary and capricious.”

“We’ve never had a violation for serving an intoxicated patron. How can you speculate? That’s not fair. You have no facts,” the lawyer told the council.

The town’s police, fire and building departments raised no objections to the license expansion, Williams said.

Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh and his lawyer, Robert C. Williams, confer after council decision. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh and his lawyer, Robert C. Williams, confer after council decision. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

To boost security at the Iron Bar, Cavanaugh voluntarily has paid more than $96,000 since September for off-duty cops, his lawyer said.

As a sweetener, Williams on Tuesday offered to stipulate that Gran Cantina would halt alcohol sales at 1 am, when the kitchen closed, instead of serving drinks until 2 am like other places in town.

Gran Cantina would not bring extra drinkers downtown, Cavanaugh has insisted, because he would cap the number of patrons inside Iron Bar, Revolution and Gran Cantina at 1,043– the maximum occupancy for Iron Bar and Revolution.

Armington and Councilman Michael Elms were dubious, questioning how the numbers would be regulated, and whether they accurately would reflect how many people were drinking at any given moment.

Credibility concerns did not stop there. Revolution, the beer hall that Cavanaugh opened in October, initially was pitched as a jazz restaurant called the Iron Bistro, Armington pointed out. 

And Cavanaugh already is challenging council conditions imposed on Revolution, Councilwoman Alison Deeb reminded the council. For that reason, Iannaccone suggested it was folly to consider approving Gran Cantina with restrictions.

Nor was the councilman swayed by the Iron Bar’s hiring of police.

“The fact that you have a $96,000 expense for security, what does that say about the nature of the establishment?” Iannaccone said.

‘AGAINST THE LATINO COMMUNITY’

While Hiliari Davis expressed fondness for the Iron Bar and Toshiba Foster welcomed the idea of a Mexican restaurant, both council members sided with aggrieved residents. Foster cited an “over-saturation of drinkers” on weekends.

Cavanaugh’s cheering section included Iron Bar patrons from as far away as Nutley, and his manager and chef.

Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris supported the liquor license expansion. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris supported the liquor license expansion. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A resident was quick to note that an Iron Bar employee testifying for Gran Cantina had misrepresented public support for the Iron Bistro in a video at the time.

But Councilwoman Michelle Harris vouched for the bar owner, a former Essex County freeholder.

“I do trust Mr. Cavanaugh. After all these years, since I was a young person, from the different locations that he’s been at, he’s been  a consistent and loyal business owner in our town.

“And he follows the law, he makes sure the quality of his restaurants and his businesses are on the high end. And I appreciate and respect that,” said Harris, who is challenging Mayor Tim Dougherty in the Democratic primary.

Council candidate Jenna Gervasio endorses Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Council candidate Jenna Gervasio endorses Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The town has courted millennials, Harris added, and now their needs must be taken into account.

That goes for Hispanic residents, too, contended her running mates.

“This is against the Latino community,” council candidate Esperanza Porras-Field said of the council decision.

“There’s no Mexican restaurants in town that you can bring a date to,” said candidate Jenna Gervasio, granddaughter of former Mayor Emilio Gervasio.

 

 

 

 

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Forget the battle of the bars. It’s a sham to keep you away from the real issues facing Morristown.
    They should instead limit the number of law offices in town. Who wants a bunch of suits, obsessed with helping corporations avoid the law, and helping landlords screw their tenants, running back and forth between their shiny offices and the courthouse, all the time? They are fat and ugly and out of shape, and they leave all that slime on the sidewalk as they slither past. It’s far more revolting and toxic than the vomit of young drunkards.
    In that light we also need to limit the number of real estate agents in town. They have infiltrated all levels of government, and are in complete collusion with the lawyers to steal the town away from its residents.
    Between the lawyers and the realtors, the working people of Morristown haven’t got a chance and they’re being squeezed out in favor of elitist millionaires who spend their lives at tony private clubs (How many residents of 40 Park are also members of the Trump National in Bedminster?) and want to kill all forms of affordable entertainment. This will keep their employees sober and complacent. Obedient workers are the best food for plutocracy.
    Has anyone noticed how drab and anxious the town is during the daytime? How elitist and un-entertaining? How anti-democratic? Look, the mayor himself is married to one of the bigger realtors in town, and what’s he been doing the whole time he’s been in office? Making sure that new developments keep going up so that his wife profits nicely, as well as certain members of the town council. NONE OF THEM TOWNSPEOPLE!!!
    Let nightlife rule the town, and forget about straight-laced businesses. At least we poor schlubs can afford an occasional beer, even if we can’t afford a million dollar condo.

  2. The bars and nightlife of this town is what has made it become what it is. Put responsibility on the individuals committing said crimes, vandalism, and disturbances instead of punishing people who want a fun night out. Nobody wants a town that closes at midnight. People, investors, and companies who move downtown don’t do so to have the right to quietly read their book at 11:30pm on a Friday night.

  3. I was at the two public hearings. At the last one a council member had a meltdown. She proceeded to insult the owner and the applicant. Kept saying” look at Jimmy sitting there chewing his gum over there!” ” just look at him!” How can an elected official insult and Attack a tax paying business owner? Just because he did not donate to their elections he becomes a bad guy? Just mean. If you don’t pay….I guess….. You don’t play….
    Anyone who attended those meetings would walk out convinced that the final” no “votes were strictly based on politics. If the owner / applicant had donated money to the ones who sit up there they would have passed it , period. Just how it works in Morristown these days. You donate , you pay , you get! Period. Very sad.

  4. Reading this article, I’m trying to understand the comment by attorney Robert C. Williams. The above story mentions that the council held “five hours of testimony over two nights”. How could their decision be labeled “arbitrary and capricious”, if it was based on testimony given?

  5. Many factors contribute to the successful and ongoing revitalization of Morristown’s downtown, and all depend on each other for their success. Hospitality venues are needed, entertainment is needed, parking is needed, residential housing is needed, transportation is needed, a supportive Council is needed and an overall vision that everyone can agree upon.

    Put all the personalities and political agendas aside and continue to fuel downtown Morristown’s popularity and growth. Residents and businesses will all benefit.

  6. I still don’t understand why 40 Park was built where it is. They should have built an office tower there and put the condos somewhere else.
    Now they are seeing the consequences to this decision.
    Would this really have been the only Mexican restaurant in town? And do so many bars need to be clustered near one intersection? Why not spread them around downtown?

  7. For 3 years the mayor and council have been asking for the restaurant bars to help the town by contributing to the police presence downtown, so in the spirit of cooperation Iron Bar volunteered to pay for 2 off duty policemen. So far we have spent in excess of $96, 000. Councilman Iannaccone took this to mean we did this because it was necessary. It’s true no good turn goes unpunished. The conflict here is 40 park has the councilman in their pocket. Mr. Priestly donated $2,500 to his campaign for council. The same Priestly who lies about vandalism etc. Mr Priestly is chairman of the 40 Park Condo association, and upset about property rights we are suing about pertaining to the ROW. Shame on you councilman.

  8. The iron bar and it’s employees have no respect for the people of Morristown. I booked an event there and was told most parents in this town would give their kids alcohol if they weren’t being monitored. How can they think so little of the towns people. I can’t believe they granted them beer hall rights.

  9. Indeed, it is the Mayo center, broad assortment of fine eating establishments, and attractive new and renovated buildings that have brought morristown back from the dead. Anybody who thinks we need more bars should check out the sidewalks on South, Street, deHart and Maple streets after folks enjoy a big night of partying. Do the bar owners pay anything for the clean-up?

  10. Nick, it is actually the Mayo Performing Arts Center that has transformed Morristown and made it a vibrant, exciting, destination. I have friends who won’t touch “in town” living like 40 Park Place because of the noise and often ugly behavior of late-night patrons. Please tell me exactly how Mr. Cavanaugh benefits Morristown in addition to offering jobs. Does he support the arts or historic community? Is he helping the homeless? I think not. It would be nice to imagine he would still open the Grand Catina as a BYOB. It would be a good addition to South Street without the late night drunks.

  11. I feel like Jimmy Cavanaugh is paying the price for the other bar/restaurant monopolies in this town who have caused disfavor in the community. The growing bar/restaurant industry is what keeps Morristown exciting and new and is responsible for the recent population growth. In my opinion, Morristown should embrace Jimmy as a long time business owner who continues to grow and support this town in all of his endeavors.

  12. The Board created this problem by expanding liquor licenses for other establishments, even to non-connected buildings (ie Tashmoo). They need to put a lock down on these expansions. When you obtain your liquor license, a capacity or square footage is set, period! At least Cavanaugh is reducing his capacity at Iron Bar to compensate for the additional space.

    If he expanded and called everything Iron Bar, they couldn’t stop him.

    I fully blame the Board and their past decisions, they created this problem, not the bar owners

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