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Hiawatha Entertainment

by on August 18th, 2010

Once again I attend a City of Wausau committee meeting for one thing, but something else on the agenda before me is fairly blog-worthy.

The Public Health and Safety Committee met Monday evening and one of the items was a local liquor-license holder who also has an entertainment license.  They have been getting neighbor complaints about their activities (or numerous complaints from one specific neighbor according to the manager of the bar).  The bar even received a citation over the weekend for this.  Sound familiar?  No, we are not still on the IC Willys thing, this time it is the Hiawatha, which is located on 713 Grant Street, just a few blocks from downtown.

The issue is the Hiawatha’s new outdoor seating area.  With the new smoking ban, many bars have been creating outdoor seating areas.  Hiawatha’s outdoor area has a Tiki Bar theme to it and includes a single acoustic guitar player playing in the background a couple of nights a week.

The problem is that the entertainment license is separate from the liquor license.  And, although the outside Tiki Bar area is covered under the liquor license, according to statements made at the meeting by the City Clerk, the entertainment license only covers the areas inside the establishment.

Although not a hearing, owners, employees and neighbors of Hiawatha came to the Public Health and Safety Committee meeting to plead their case as they were hoping to expand the entertainment license to include the Tiki Bar.  The very emotional “testimony” pointed out that the noise levels can’t be heard from neighboring properties.

The City pointed out that the citation was not for noise, but was for entertainment without the proper permit.

One person speaking for Hiawatha pointed out that both the Mayor and the Chief of Police are there, have heard the guitar player, and have no problem with it.  An owner also pointed out that they have a more mature, older clientele.  However, the Committee were quick to point out that who does and does not frequent the business and who does or does not find objection to the activity doesn’t make an activity that is contrary to the ordinances okay.

Hiawatha representatives also pointed out that on earlier occasions when the police responded, they were not told they couldn’t have the outdoor entertainment, they were just asked to limit volumes and hours – which they did.

Although from time to time the Committee grants entertainment licenses for outdoor one-time events, they had reservations in allowing this license as an ongoing thing, especially when there were already a number of complaints (albeit all from the same person).  Expanding the license to include the outside Tiki Bar would open it up for any type of entertainment unless a large number of restrictions were put on it, controlling the type of entertainment, the days, the hours, etc.  Also, they had concern that with a large number of liquor license holders in the City, many of which are trying to accommodate smoking customers with outdoor seating areas, this could open up requests from them also wanting to expand their entertainment license to outdoors, even if it was just something like piping the music out there.

I said at the top of this that we are not still on IC Willys, but maybe we still are as the Committee mentioned a number of times that they don’t want to go down the same road again.  They don’t want to limit what one bar can do while allow a different bar to do it just because of who the clientele are.

There were comments in the articles Citizen Wausau did about IC Willys that rules are rules and need to be followed, and there needs to be consequences when they are not – and it should not matter who you are or whether or not you are “stand-off-ish.”  By citing the Hiawatha for violating the outdoor entertainment rules, and denying their permit, the Public Health and Safety Committee is doing just that.

Is treating the Hiawatha with the same policies and limitations as IC Willy’s right?  Is it fair?  What do you think?

(The application was recommended for denial by a 4-0 vote, and the final decision will be made by the City Counsel at their September 10th meeting.)

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