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Erik Burgess, Published October 01 2013

Three seek available license for Fargo bar, which could force random drawing

FARGO – Following City Commission actions Monday, Fargo could soon have more liquor licenses that allow for stand-alone bars.

Fargo historically has had a limited number of licenses that allow bars to operate with no requirement for food sales. The city has only eight Class A licenses, which allow for unrestricted on-sale.

When the city created four Class Z licenses in 2005, it was the first time a standalone bar license had been created in decades. The Z license is tied to the city’s population: For every additional 10,000 people, a new Z is made available. When Fargo hit 100,000 people a couple of years ago, Mahoney’s opened downtown with a fifth Z license.

Unlike other standalone bar licenses, a Z license is owned by the city and is returned to the city if the license is vacated.

Some city leaders and business owners don’t think the Z license should be tied to the city’s size.

In a situation city officials say is “unique,” three businesses have applied for the Z license vacated by Mahoney’s Bar and Grill, which closed in late July.

Daniel Labernik, owner of Labby’s Grill and Bar, 1100 19th Ave. N., already has an FA license – which requires 50 percent food sales – but wants to switch to a business model that relies more on alcohol sales, said City Auditor Steve Sprague.

Banker Jeff Thomas applied for a Z license so he can open the Pink Pussy Cat Lounge, a bar and grill, at 52nd Avenue South and 25th Street.

Julie Thorson and Rosemary Ackley have also applied for a Z license and want to open a new bar and restaurant called Catherine’s at 609 NP Ave. Thorson and Ackley are the wives of Randy Thorson and Warren Ackley, who own Old Broadway.

Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to have the liquor control board vet the three applications and bring a recommendation to the commission on Oct. 28.

The recommendation could include adding more Z licenses into the city’s pool, which Thomas said makes more sense if the city wants to encourage business growth.

Police Chief Keith Ternes warned that adding three licenses at once could be a public safety concern.

If no more licenses are added, city ordinance currently states that if more than one business applies for a Z license, a drawing would be conducted at a commission meeting.

The Z license carries an initial fee of $105,000.