Wauwatosa planners not mad about bar's proposal
Details lacking, and owner's history raises questions
Stripper poles, a large stage for entertainment and the lack of an operating plan didn't win a would-be bar owner any points with Wauwatosa planning officials.
Nor did Dominic LaLicata's answers to questions about whether he has had any police trouble at his Greenfield location, where he operates a tavern that bears the same name as the one proposed for the Tosa's Village.
LaLicata has applied to open Mad Dog Saloon at 6750 W. State St., where an Applebee's currently operates. He owns a Mad Dog Saloon in Greenfield, as well as Boulder Junction restaurant in Brookfield and Crazy Horse strip club in West Allis.
On Jan. 10 before the Wauwatosa Plan Commission, LaLicata pitched his proposed business as a sports bar, but Mayor Jill Didier voiced concern that the set-up at the Greenfield location might be something quite different.
"Rumor has it you have a couple of stripper poles in your establishment," said Didier, chairwoman of the commission.
LaLicata called the poles "a gimmick," comparing it to the giant pepper people can ride at La Perla in Milwaukee.
"We might have a contest where if people climb to the top the pole, they get a prize," he said. "Five times as many men have climbed the pole as women."
The mayor also asked whether he ever had any police calls to the Greenfield location, to which the bar owner responded "never." Then she opened a file with numerous Greenfield police reports regarding Mad Dog.
LaLicata said he must have misunderstood the question and that, while the neighbors may have contacted police, he has never had reason to make such calls. The mayor then pulled out a report that listed him as the caller.
"You can ask me about any one of them and I can give you an explanation," he said, adding that neighbor complaints about parking and noise had been dealt with by increasing security and installing a large fence.
Calls to the Greenfield Police Department were not return by the reporter's deadline.
Plans and purpose
Beyond the stripper poles, commissioners were troubled about the lack of detail provided by LaLicata as far as an operating plan and facility layout.
Commissioners cited his mention of wanting to include a pool table, arcade and dart games, but they appeared nowhere on the site plan. He didn't provide information on the type of entertainment he planned to offer.
"It's more like a letter, not a plan," Didier said. "So why don't you tell us what kind of business you'd like to put in our family business area."
He explained the sports bar would be a popular spot to watch Packers and Badgers games and likened his operation to Buffalo Wild Wings, a comparison that didn't go down well.
"We have had significant police calls and issues (at the restaurant on Mayfair Road) - hundreds of calls in the last few years. Not a good example," the mayor said.
LaLicata said he plans to provide admittance to all ages during the day, then limit the crowd to 21 and older by checking IDs after 8 p.m.
He called plans very preliminary with details to come. He avoided many of the questions by talking about drink specials and his bold attempt to open a new restaurant in the current business climate.
"Everyone's just trying to make a living," he said. "We're dealing with a tough economy."
Family friendly preference
Both on the commission and in the audience, some openly suggested the Village would be better served by a family restaurant rather than another tavern.
When LaLicata initially proposed his tavern in Greenfield to the city's Plan Commission years ago, he emphasized the amount of food service the business would generate. But when it came down to it, the business was much more bar than grill.
Didier asked about his percentage of alcohol to food sales. LaLicata said he didn't know that information but strived for a 50-50 mix.
Neighbor Jim Krueger cited the number of bars on State Street in Tosa and Milwaukee as plenty.
"I don't see the need for another bar," he said. "A family-type restaurant is a much better option."
The Applebee's factor
Employees of Applebee's also spoke against Mad Dog Saloon. In recent months, Applebee's put in late-night drink and food discounts that have brought in a "rougher crowd" and led to more police calls, they said. While that gave their restaurant more of a neighborhood following, it came at a price.
Sandy Golden, real estate broker with CB Richard Ellis, said the property has been on the market for a year. Applebee's is closing regardless of whether Mad Dog Saloon comes in, she said.
The landlord, David Israel, has been impressed with LaLicata during lease negotiations, Golden added. Although a minority stakeholder in the Applebee's franchise, the corporate office made the decision to close this restaurant, she said.
Didier said the city has a history of problems with Israel not taking care of his properties. A low-end grocery store was on the property for many years before anchor tenant Metcalfe's Market moved in and he's fought with the city about turning a proposed condo development into low-income senior housing.
The commission unanimously voted to hold the request until LaLicata could bring back some answers. Applebee's remains open for business.
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