Bar West, a Pacific Beach ‘restaurant’ had their license suspended and doors closed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) for a period of 10 days this month. Although they were required to sell at least fifty-percent food and fifty-percent alcohol they decided to eliminate their food sales – as it was ‘never popular’.
That’s right, San Diego had a restaurant shuttered by the state for not serving food. Although in business since August 2008, over that time I don’t recall ever seeing them selling food as a traditional restaurant would. To me, they’ve been a noisy and problematic night club – requiring many, many police and ambulance calls to their location.
Additionally, Bar West has been violating a city rule as well – established as part of their right to operate with entertainment. Police required they sell full meals that ‘includes entrees’.
The city needs to gain local control over its alcohol licenses because Sacramento cannot do its job without proper funding. If the goal is to create a harmony between alcohol outlets and neighborhoods then there has to be a monitoring system in place.
The city can work with owners to create rules they, their neighbors and the city can live by allowing the city to have oversight over their operations. A Conditional Use Permit is the best-practice for every top-ten city in California – except San Diego.
Bar West is a Type-47 Restaurant which is described by the ABC as:
ON SALE GENERAL – EATING PLACE – (Restaurant) Authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the licenses premises. … Must operate and maintain the licensed premises as a bona fide eating place. Must maintain suitable kitchen facilities, and must make actual and substantial sales of meals for consumption on the premises. …
Typically, the ABC creates ‘conditions’ that are essentially rules an alcohol outlet must follow to be able to do business. These terms were put in place to mitigate community concerns about the establishment. The outlet is monitored by the ABC and when conditions are not being followed they are either warned or disciplined by the local ABC office.
The ABC conditions for Bar West Petition for Conditional License dated August 2008 includes a stipulation that reads:
1. The quarterly gross sales of alcoholic beverages shall not exceed the gross sales of food during the same period. The Licensee shall at all times maintain records which reflect separately the gross sale of food and the gross sales of Alcoholic beverages of the licensed business. Said records shall be kept no less frequently than on a quarterly basis and Shall be made available to the Department on demand.
There’s no word if the ABC made a recommendation to the Board of Equalization to audit Bar West’s books to see just how much they’ve been ignoring this condition.
Bar West decided to take advantage of the 10-day closure and posted an announcement that they’re renovating and adding a new drink-mixing system. After ‘The proverbial light bulb soon flickered on.’ they also announced they will have a food vendor serve food.
San Diego Police Entertainment Permit
In November 2011 the San Diego Police issued an Entertainment Permit to Bar West. They too issue rules tailored to meet local issues regarding a variety of topics such as noise, security guard to patron ratios, hours of operation and more. One such condition reads:
19. On days Bar West is open for business, the establishment shall be open from at least 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm and offer a full dinner service, which includes entrees.
The question is, did the San Diego Police ever cite Bar West for this violation? As it stands, the Entertainment Permit fee system allows for one on-site police compliance visit. Is this enough?
The System is Broken
Bar West has been in business well over four years and from my recollection clearly violating the conditions regarding selling food. Essentially, we’ve had a nightclub masquerading as a restaurant… and getting away with it for nearly the entire time. To many, this is an illustration of ineffective systems, procedures and resources of both the ABC and the San Diego Police. If conditions are agreed upon by the licensee with their State licensing body to mitigate community, city and public-safety official’s concerns – but no monitoring or enforcement mechanism is in place – and the establishment does pretty much as it pleases – why have the process in the first place?
What’s even more bothersome is that you’re likely paying for this business to be in business. How’s that? They’re doing what they please, and the tabs on you.
As citizens, you and I get citations regularly if we speed, park incorrectly, jay walk etc. The odds of a bar or restaurant getting a citation from the ABC or police, who can enforce state laws themselves, is approximately once every one-hundred fifty years. How would anyone behave if they knew they wouldn’t get punished?
What’s the Solution?
What many have supported, and the industry has opposed in San Diego, is a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) with a Deemed Approved Ordinance that has a industry-paid funding mechanism. This model has worked across the country. One example is Ventura, CA. The way it works is:
- The City of San Diego, not the State of California, decides if an alcohol license should be allowed to be put in a San Diego community
- The police work with the licensee to create a set of rules they must abide by.
- The police monitor and work with the licensee if they break those rules. They might cite them or in extreme cases close them for a night or two. Most quickly adapt and straighten out.
- Any establishment selling alcohol should pay a sliding-scale fee, based on hours of operation, type of license, number of patrons allowed and other criteria, into a fund that pays for San Diego Police to establish and maintain this program
This existing system is costing San Diego. Let’s work together to develop a solution that works.
Other Bar West Stories
pbSpirits.com – Hear a witness talk about their night of partying at Bar West … and police response.
Bar West will be closed April 23 through May 2.
During the closure, The West Group, will make upgrades to Bar West, including the implementation of a new, state of the art kryogenix white nitrogen system as well as minor interior updates. The closure is also part of an old infraction issued by the ABC. Most of Bar West’s guests come for the cocktails and DJs; food has never been popular. We tried serving several types of food to guests, but nothing took; we were wasting more than we were selling. While figuring out a solution the ABC issued us an infraction. The proverbial light bulb soon flickered on. We approached the folk’s behind Oscar’s Mexican Seafood about investing in them (we were already loyal customers) while offering our patrons some of the best food in town. We would serve their food at Bar West. We immediately complied with ABC by finalizing our agreement with Oscar’s and, thus, our suspension was diminished. We were also permitted to select the week we wished to close.
We did offer the ABC an alternative solution: that we remain open for that week and, instead, give 100 percent of the week’s profits to the state. The suggestion was declined.
Bar West Management