Club Church Bar Pass Liquor Test

    GRAND RAPIDS—Members of the Downtown Development Authority approved a pair of requests for an inexpensive Class C liquor license last week.

    One is for a new business set to open in a storefront on Monroe Center and the other goes to a 79-year-old private club on the tenth floor of the Fifth Third Bank building.

    The University Club of Grand Rapids, at 111 Lyon NW, was given a green light by the DDA to apply to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission in Lansing for a license that is only available to restaurants in a downtown district. The other green-lighter was Graces, a full-service restaurant-to-be at 134 Monroe Center with an unusual twist — members of the local clergy will serve as bartenders for what is being called a theology bar.

    Both applications will go to the City Commission for approval before being sent to the MLCC. The special license is only issued to restaurants in a downtown district that meet a number of state-sanctioned criteria. The cost for one is minimal, running about $1,200.

    Opposition to the University Club request came from 1st Ward City Commissioner James Jendrasiak. He argued that a license was only available to an eatery open to the public, not to a private club. DDA member and Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue also felt that a business had to be open to the public to be awarded a license. Mayhue was the only DDA member who did not ratify the club’s request.

    Subsection 1 of section 436.17k of the Michigan Compiled Laws sets the conditions that must be met before a license is issued. The first of those conditions is “the business is a full-service restaurant, is open to the public, and prepares food on the premises.”

    “We have had trouble with clubs operating under Class C licenses, for various purposes, that exclude. Someone can’t really participate in most of the activities unless they are a member, and that has elements of this certainly,” said Ken Wozniak of the MCCL,.

    “But they are open to the public to the extent that non-members can purchase alcohol where they are planning to operate. So it’s a bit of a gray area. I guess it would really come down to, from a legal standpoint, how tightly drawn the commission wants to make those licenses,” he added.

    Wozniak told the Business Journal that he thought 42 of the 50 licenses allocated for the state have been issued, and he felt that the MCCL could have more applications on file than can be awarded.

    City commissioners and the DDA approved the University Club’s first application five years ago. But the MCCL rejected it because there were escrowed licenses available at the time. Today, there are only two on the escrow market and neither is reportedly for sale.

    University Club general manager Cynthia Poll told the DDA that there were licenses in escrow back then, but she didn’t pursue one because it wasn’t economically feasible for the club to do that. An escrowed Class C license can cost $30,000 to $60,000.

    University Club President Stephen Waterbury told board members the club license his organization has restricts it from having a cash bar. He said being able to offer one would let the club hold more events in downtown and make a stronger contribution to the economic activity of downtown.

    Waterbury also said that getting a downtown license could increase the club’s revenue by as much as $50,000 a year. More revenue, in turn, would lead to physical upgrades to the club and improved services to its members – which number 470, mostly business people.

    “A Class C liquor license would enable us to accommodate the frequent requests by our members for cash bars and stop turning away business,” he wrote. “This will enhance the future economic viability of our 79-year-old urban club.”

    DDA member and Mayor John Logie supported the club’s application by writing a letter asking the board to approve it. The mayor belongs to the club.

    Renee Visser, owner of the Dog Pit restaurant on Monroe Center, signed a five-year lease in March with two five-year options for 2,000 square feet at 134 Monroe Center. There she plans to open Graces, a restaurant that will also offer, as she put it, theology on tap.

    “This unique effort of mixing spirits and spirituality, along with a menu that includes pizza, steaks and hamburgers, will be a welcome addition to downtown Grand Rapids,” wrote Visser in a memo to the DDA.

    Visser said she plans to spend $150,000 to build-out the Graces site. She has operated the Dog Pit for three years now, and said the eatery served as a facilitator for a gospel series that was held on the mall this year. Visser added that her restaurant was the starting point for the Monroe Mall Ministries last year.

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