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Erik Burgess, Published March 02 2014

Fargo bar owners take issue with new pub

FARGO – Some area bar owners are asking the City Commission to rescind a liquor license expansion granted last summer, which could stall the opening of a new Irish pub in south Fargo.

The City Commission granted Dave Erickson, owner of the Bulldog Tap at 4265 45th St. S., a liquor license expansion on July 22, giving him permission to add on to the bar.

It has since come to light, though, that Erickson is not simply expanding his current bar. He’s planning on opening an entirely new facility next to the Bulldog Tap called Hennessy’s Irish Pub, at 4323 45th St. S, which should require an entirely new and separate liquor license.

“We were led to believe one thing, and I think another thing happened,” City Commissioner Brad Wimmer said in an interview Sunday. Wimmer serves on the city’s liquor control board.

Erickson didn’t return a voicemail seeking comment Sunday.

Some bar owners, including Barrett Prody of JT Cigarro, have taken notice and asked the City Commission to put the issue on its agenda for today’s 5 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

“He is in the process of constructing – basically it’s a completely separate bar, not connected,” said Fargo attorney Ross Brandborg, who is representing the protesting owners. “It’s in a different strip mall. It’s got a different name.”

Other than Prody, who is named in an email to the city auditor, Brandborg wouldn’t say who else he is representing.

The protesting bar owners are asking the commission to rescind their July action, Brandborg said. This would take away Erickson’s expanded liquor license and could delay the opening of the Irish pub.

“Of course, now it’s several months later, and he’s (Erickson) done some building,” Wimmer said. “The business owner has moved forward in the meantime. So, it’s a little bit of a sticky situation.”

But Brandborg said it’s about applying the same rules to everyone equally.

“My clients have to dot their i’s and cross their t’s, and they just want to hold everybody to the same standard,” Brandborg said. “If they let this slide here, I think it opens up a can of worms for them they don’t necessarily want to have to deal with.”

‘Doesn’t smell right’

At the liquor control board meeting Feb. 19, liquor board members told Erickson that they didn’t know there was going to be a new, separate bar until a Forum story profiling Hennessy’s Irish Pub was published Dec. 21.

Liquor board members told Erickson that his original plans seemed to show two buildings being connected by a patio, and that the two spaces would be under the same “Bulldog Tap” name.

Erickson told the liquor board that he has put a significant investment – upward of $1 million –into the new pub. He told The Forum in December that the interior of the bar was being built in Dublin and shipped to Fargo.

Erickson told city officials that he was still planning to maintain his original schedule and open his new bar in time for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

Police Chief Keith Ternes said at the liquor board meeting that it appears that Erickson would be allowed to open the new bar as is, according to the meeting minutes.

But at the meeting, Wimmer warned of a backlash from other liquor license holders if the city didn’t fix the issue soon.

Wimmer said the liquor board was originally going to work through the issue by looking into what other licenses might be available and that Erickson was also going to look into whether Bulldog and Hennessy’s could still be connected in some way.

“Then, in the meantime, the other liquor owners have come forward and said, ‘Hey this doesn’t smell right. You guys gotta start over,’ ” Wimmer said.

Wimmer said he was “anxious” to hear what Erickson and the protesting bar owners have to say at tonight’s meeting.

“We may take action, I don’t know, (Monday night) and put him on hold,” Wimmer said.

Erickson also owns Red Hen Taphouse in Dilworth and Dave’s Southside Tap in Moorhead.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518