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Erik Burgess, Published October 28 2013

Fargo signals change coming with stand-alone bar licensing

FARGO – By next month, city law here could be changed so more stand-alone bars can open up more often.

City commissioners unanimously agreed Monday that they will take the next four to six weeks to reword the city’s Class Z liquor license, which allows for unrestricted on-sale with no requirement for food sales.

The city has five Class Z licenses and gains another one every time Fargo gains 10,000 people. Until now, the city has relied on the 10-year U.S. Census for that data.

Commissioners agreed that waiting 10 years before allowing a new stand-alone bar to open is too long, especially considering Fargo’s rapid growth.

“Waiting for the 2020 census, to me, is somewhat ludicrous,” Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

Walaker said the city’s planning department does regular population analyses and already predicts the city has a population of 113,000. By current city law, a sixth Z license should have been made available when Fargo went above 110,000, which happened after the 2010 official census.

Despite the fact that other cities such as Bismarck and Minot use smaller trigger numbers before making another stand-alone bar license available, Walaker said he was OK with Fargo’s trigger being 10,000.

The issue came to a head last month when Mahoney’s Bar and Grill, a Z license holder, closed and three businesses applied for the license, a situation many city officials said was unique.

Commissioners Monday seemed to agree that all three businesses – which were vetted by the city’s liquor control board – should be granted a Z license when the ordinance is reworded in about a month.

The business owners said they didn’t mind waiting but said they wanted some assurances the ordinance would be changed. If it isn’t changed, the owners said they want a random drawing for the available Z license, as currently dictated by city law.

The three businesses are:

E A downtown bar and restaurant called Catherine’s, proposed by Julie Thorson and Rosemary Ackley, at 609 NP Ave.

E A south Fargo bar and grill tentatively called the Pink Pussy Cat Lounge, proposed by Jeff Thomas at about 52nd Avenue South and 25th Street.

E An existing north Fargo restaurant, Labby’s Grill and Bar, 1100 19th Ave. N., where owner Daniel Labernik wants to change his liquor license structure.

Commissioner Tim Mahoney said the former Pink Pussy Cat Lounge, which was downtown decades ago, was more than just a bar and grill, and that the name might have a negative connotation for its new neighbors in south Fargo. Thomas said he is considering a name change.

Michael Page, who owns Fargo Billiards and Gastropub, 3234 43rd St. S., told the commission he might also like to be considered for a Z license.

When the south Fargo billiards hall opened in 2009, the city had to create a new liquor license that allowed billiards sales to be counted with food against alcohol sales. Page’s license doesn’t allow him to offer happy hour specials or any discounts on alcohol.

“We should either create another Z license that we could trade in and get, or get rid of this silly restriction on just us,” Page said.

Commissioners agreed the city’s liquor control board will take up that issue separately.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518