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Urban Joe's Café could end up serving alcohol

But West Allis wants to keep eligibility parameters narrow

March 25, 2014

West Allis — Urban Joe's Café, which opened six months ago in downtown West Allis, could end up serving cocktails after all — that is, if the city can narrow the parameters enough so that it won't be deluged by similar requests for liquor licenses, which have already surpassed a self-imposed limit.

The Common Council originally denied the request by Urban Joe's owner Pullum Tairi for a liquor license, but pleas at the council meeting three weeks ago led to the request being sent back to the License and Health Committee, which met last week.

The committee was sympathetic, but told Tairi that if it goes further over the limit for him it will have to do so for anyone asking for a liquor license, thereby crippling the city's effort to reduce the number of taverns. The city has allowed 124 such licenses, four more than it wants. It's over because it lowered the limit last year to 120.

But noting that Urban Joe's is the kind of business the city wants to attract, especially to the downtown, the committee did some creative thinking. The result was it found a way to narrow the parameters for granting a license so much so that others would be unlikely to qualify. The Community Development Department is now working on the details and will come back to the committee and the Common Council.

Urban Joe's has become a popular breakfast and lunch spot. Tairi wants to build up the dinner crowd even more by serving cocktails to make the cafe an attractive nighttime destination for business people and couples.

"Everybody wants you to have this license," said Alderman Gary Barczak, who sits on the License and Health Committee.

Alderwoman Cathleen Probst said Tairi has invested more than $150,000 in the cafe to create something special.

"This is exactly the kind of business owner we want to have," she said at a public hearing last week on the license request.

At that same hearing, resident Robert Braun was the only speaker against the liquor license request, arguing that the city doesn't need any more taverns.

"We have a lot of drunks running around the city of West Allis," he said.

At the later License and Health Committee meeting, Alderman Michael May suggested narrowing the rules for going over the city's limit by requiring the establishment be in the downtown business district, be an established restaurant, requiring that the applicant own the property, that the restaurant have a capacity of up to 50 people and be at least a certain number of feet (to be specified later) away from the nearest home.

There could be a wrinkle in the plan, however, with the hotel and banquet facility to be built at 82nd Street and Greenfield Avenue also needing a liquor license. Before the hotel developer would even consider coming to West Allis, assurances had to be given that a liquor license would be available, Barczak said. But the hotel is a $13 million investment and it is in the city's best interest to attract it, he said.

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