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Atlanta to crack down on nightclubs posing as restaurants to bypass liquor laws

By David Pendered

Atlanta is poised to investigate nightclubs and close those that masquerade as restaurants in order to get and retain a license to sell alcohol.

The distinction between nightclubs and restaurants seems to have been more clear cut when nightclubs were adorned with disco balls and flashing lights, such as this setup at the now shuttered Atlanta Eagle. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The Atlanta City Council is slated to approve the measure at its meeting Monday.

The pending crackdown is to be citywide and goes to the heart of the city’s nightlife scene.

Nightclubs that pose as restaurants, and get a license as a restaurant, receive exemptions that provide them with the legal right to sell alcohol on Sundays, admit guests under age 21, and operate near homes, schools, churches, libraries and hospitals.

Nightclubs that get a license as a nightclub do not receive these exemptions, under city code.

The loophole being exploited by scofflaws involves the reporting of sales of food and drink.

Businesses qualify as a restaurant if they, “derive at least 50 percent of gross annual food and beverage sales of prepared meals of food,” according to the pending legislation.

Until now, the city’s alcohol licensing system has been all about trust with no verification. It was an honor system.

The city accepted the statement of applicants for alcohol licenses regarding their food and beverage sales. Businesses that didn’t tell the truth generally weren’t caught.

Atlanta has issued about 2,000 licenses to sell alcohol, according to Atlanta’s chief financial officer, Roosevelt Council, Jr. About 20 licenses a year are to be audited.

Buckhead is the site of so many suspected violations that auditors are lined up to work for free, to review business records for compliance with alcohol licenses, said city Councilmember Howard Shook, who represents the Buckhead area.

“My folks are on fire,” Shook said.

And it’s not just Buckhead, Councilmember Joyce Sheperd added at the Dec. 2 meeting of the council’s Finance/Executive Committee.

“We’re having these problems all over the city,” Sheperd said.

Sheperd said suspected lawbreakers operate in her district, located south of Downtown Atlanta; in Midtown, represented by Councilmember Jennifer Ide; in Southwest Atlanta, represented by Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet; and in the Mall West End area, represented by Councilmember Cleta Winslow.

“You could go all over the city and you have this problem,” Sheperd said.

The response plan slated for a vote Monday calls for a joint effort of the city’s Finance and Police departments. The approach is three-pronged:

  • The License Review Board is to identify establishments that are the subject of complaints that suggest they are licensed as restaurants but behave as nightclubs. The board oversees alcohol permits on behalf of the Atlanta Police Department.
  • The License Review Board is to submit its list of suspected lawbreakers to the Finance Department. City auditors are to review the financial records of these establishments to ensure their compliance with alcohol regulations.
  • Establishments that were licensed as restaurants but don’t meet the criteria are to have their restaurant sales license administratively revoked by the License Review Board. The potential penalties for lying on an application do not appear to be addressed in the legislation. License revocations can be appealed to Fulton County Superior Court. The legislation provides for businesses to reapply immediately for a new alcohol license under the proper category.

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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12 Comments

  1. Ryan Buchanan December 6, 2020 8:42 pm

    Why are you using a picture of 8Arm, a restaurant that DOES NOT operate as a nightclub at all, as the cover photo for this article..Report

    Reply
  2. Natasha December 7, 2020 3:21 am

    Go to Area4 on greenbrier parkway it poses as a restaurant on the internet we went to get food and first off it was a whole line at the door didn’t think nothing of it until we got charged 20.00 at the door for entry and then got in and there was no where to sit waited almost 45 to an hour to get a little bar table ordered food that took another hour and a half to come alcoholic drinks came in like 10 to 15 minutes this was nothing but a whole nightclub disguised as a restaurant I was so upset and disappointed thought I was just going out to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant near by and ended up at a nightclub full of young people drinking, smoking, twerking and god knows what else Im 41 and this was not the environment I wanted to be in We was very disappointed that We was mislead but it was late and after all the hassle and aggravation we went thru we waited for our food because remember we paid 20.00 a piece to get in the customer service is horrible and they need to be shut down or not consider a restaurant cause that’s what they are not. AREA4 IS A NIGHTCLUB THATS IT NOTHING MORE NOTHING LESS!Report

    Reply
  3. Trent Morrow December 7, 2020 3:55 am

    Action must be taken with the pandemic not being taken seriously by lawmakers to ensure the safety of the public. I can assure you people are travelling to Atlanta to party at nightclubs and strip clubs with no restrictions in place. It should be an embarrassment to all lawmakers that there is no policing of premises across this great state with the concern that the public health and safety is at risk. When will someone step up and take action to put the people first. While appreciate the importance to keep the economy open it should not be at the risk of spreading the virus across the city and state. Let’s hope someone gets this message sooner rather than later and we have the courage to impose restrictions on opening hours and limits on number of people in licensed premises immediately as we deal with the challenges of the pandemic.Report

    Reply
  4. Sp 60 December 7, 2020 8:43 am

    I have to laugh. If liquor licenses were done rationally none of this would make a bit of difference.Report

    Reply
  5. KdotS December 7, 2020 9:45 am

    This is comical considering the lack of urgency by lawmakers during a pandemic. And he should investigate himself for having people do CITY OF ATLANTA WORK FOR FREE!!! YOU WANT TO INVESTIGATE ALCOHOL LICENSE THAT WERE GIVEN AWAY ON TRUST! WHAT DID YOU EXPECT!!!??? 🧐😬🥴 AND JOYCE SHEPARD!! REALLY!! ARE YOU STILL BEING ESCORTED TO THE BACK OF THE VERY ENVIRONMENTS YOUR INVESTIGATING. IS FIVE APPLE MARTINIS STILL YOUR FAVE WITH LEMON PEPPER WINGS!!! STOP IT!! SOME OF US KNOW YOU IN REAL LIFE. THESE ARE THE VERY PLACES YOU PATRONAGE! MISS ME WITH THIS ARTICLE. SIGNED YOUR OLD BARTENDER!!!! 😵😵😬Report

    Reply
  6. Carrie December 7, 2020 12:34 pm

    I want to know who the hell pays $20 (per person) to get into a restaurant!? Lol Dumba#* You knew where you were. Don’t play.Report

    Reply
  7. Mark butler December 7, 2020 12:51 pm

    Atlanta politicians are some control freaks. People have the right to provide for themselves, the government is out of control and on a power trip. Who the hell these leaders think they are GOD. Im sick of people not standing up to this b/s Corporate government. The whole system is rotten to its core, our leaders are the same damn leaders our fore fathers where fighting to be freed from. These elite families using the government for its own piggy bank. This is history repeating itself,the same people the evil elites with they fake charities ripping off the people.Report

    Reply
  8. Tommy December 7, 2020 1:00 pm

    Check out Bougaloos on Ponce de Leon in MidtownReport

    Reply
    1. Me December 7, 2020 2:10 pm

      SnitchReport

      Reply
  9. Mike Froedge December 7, 2020 6:33 pm

    Yes, the middle of a pandemic and historic economic crisis is the PERFECT time to start attacking local small businesses, and plunging even more people into unemployment.
    Such a great idea.

    🙄🤦🏻‍♂️

    Idiots.Report

    Reply
    1. Michelle Allen December 9, 2020 9:22 pm

      Right!!Report

      Reply
  10. Paybacks hell December 9, 2020 12:54 pm

    Check Oscars’s in Ansley Square. They don’t even have a kitchen. The owner is a slim ball.Report

    Reply

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