Loco Patron became the latest winner in the downtown Scottsdale bar scene Tuesday by being granted a city permit that will allow it to continue serving food and drinks to locals and tourists.
But even with the approval of Loco Patron, the issue of conditional use permits is still being questioned by those in the bar and restaurant industry. It’s also the reason the city plans to meet with state liquor officials next week to discuss any possible inconsistencies and the reason for a pending lawsuit against the city.
On Tuesday, the permit process was focused on Loco Patron and owner Josh Levine, who was concerned because of his location on the west side of Scottsdale Road near shops and galleries. Council members have said they prefer bars to be on the east side of Scottsdale Road.
“I’m very pleased and appreciative of the council for making the wise decision in supporting us,” he said.
Loco Patron, at 4228 N. Scottsdale Road, successfully made the case to the council that the owners’ $500,000 investment has helped the downtown area, that the restaurant has the support of surrounding businesses and is a responsible neighbor with its clean-up patrols. About a dozen supporters stayed until the hearing wearing “Save Loco Patron” stickers on their shirts.
“They took a dilapidated bar and livened up Scottsdale Road and energized the area,” said Court Rich, an attorney representing Loco Patron.
Loco Patron was seeking a bar liquor license because it was unable to maintain 40 percent of its sales from food. However, the establishment has agreed to maintain the 40 percent mark between January and May, when tourist and lunch business is stronger. Loco Patron agreed to return to the council every year for a review of the permit.
The council voted 6-1 Tuesday to grant a conditional use permit to allow Loco Patron to operate as a bar, and 6-1 to recommend the state grant the business a bar liquor license.
Councilman Ron McCullagh said he voted against the use permit and liquor license because of his concern of the parking situation. Loco Patron has only eight parking spaces on site, but a large city-owned garage is located behind the establishment.
On Sept. 5, representatives from the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control and Scottsdale officials are scheduled to meet to discuss the city’s permit process.
“The issue is to make sure what we ask with the council use permit is the same thing the liquor investigators ask the bars to do, so there is consistent instructions agency-to-agency,” said John Little, executive director of the city’s Downtown Group.
Lobbyists for downtown restaurants and bars have concerns that the city’s requirements conflict with state law when it comes to asking establishments to act like restaurants — Salty Senorita agreed never to card patrons, a bar would, when it received its use permit approval last month — even though they are regulated as bars by the state.
“It’s a double-edged sword. While trying to keep your establishment well-respected without any problems with the state, you also have to comply with the city’s requests and stipulations,” said Stacey Gaus of Williams and Associates, a lobbying firm that represents a number of downtown Scottsdale bars and restaurants.
There’s also a pending lawsuit filed by NEXT against Scottsdale in response to the council’s denial of the nightclub’s use permit two months ago.
The lawsuit, which was filed in July, claims that “despite meeting all requirements for issuance” of the permit, the City Council “arbitrarily, capriciously and unreasonably refused” to issue it.
The council is scheduled to be back next month to vote on another use permit for a downtown establishment, the former Blue Agave restaurant, which plans to reopen as the Jackrabbit Supper Club.
Lynne Lagarde, an attorney representing Jackrabbit Supper Club, said the establishment plans to continue operating with a restaurant liquor license, but needed the use permit to be able to card patrons at the door and have a cover charge.
Last week, the Scottsdale Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the permit.
In addition to Loco Patron and Salty Senorita, the council had previously approved permits for e4, Drinx and Jamaican Blue.