University Square bar dies in ALRC


There is a grocery store coming to University Square.

But not a bar. Or a restaurant. What to call it was exactly the source of the controversy that ended developer Scott Acker’s hopes of a gigantic Badger-themed eatery/watering hole next door to Lucky apartments. Cardinal writer Todd Stevens seems to suggest that the Alcohol License Review Committee rejected the plan because it didn’t believe the bar would be able to provide a non-alcoholic environment for underage customers as well as be a bar.

That may be partially true, but that’s not the story city officials I’ve talked to have been pushing. Ald. Michael Schumacher, an ALRC member who voted against giving Acker a second chance to present a restaurant plan, was very straight forward in explaining his opposition: the project violated the downtown alcohol density plan. He didn’t believe it would be a restaurant and he was convinced that the place would ultimately derive most of its profits from alcohol sales. This matters to Schumacher not only because his German heritage instilled an obligation to follow the law (his words), but because if the place becomes a bar late at night it means hundreds of drunks leaving at 2 AM, which inevitably causes problems for cops trying to keep an eye on bar-time exodus.

Ald. Bridget Maniaci voiced the same concern – does the city want to deal with a bar with a capacity of 900?

So what is the real tragedy of the death of the new bar? Is it the lost investment or the lost opportunities for fun? Proponents of the bar say both. Ald. Bryon Eagon was openly disappointed with the dismissal of the plan by some of his colleagues, and sent me the following:

This was surely and opportunity lost and has brought up the need for discussions about downtown business investments and general alcohol policy, specifically about changes to the density plan so we don’t scare off potential good investments. Speaking of scaring off applicants, I was also disappointed that there were some votes against referring the application, which not only seems to be unprecedented, but sends the wrong message to this and also future applicants and investors.

Ouch. A good, above-the-belt knock at Schumacher. Stevens uses the same arguments – stupid Madison is being anti-business. Granted, his assertion that we have an anti-business reputation isn’t so true – Madison was recently rated one of the best places to find a job. Of course that’s largely due to the public sector…but I digress.

However, business be damned, the sad end to this story is that yet another door to underage entertainment is closed and many of the anti-bar crew aren’t proposing alternatives. Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff seems to be an exception. A supporter of the density plan which restricts the number of bars downtown, Bidar-Sielaff nevertheless is a vocal proponent of expanding social opportunities for 18-20 year old students. When I asked her if the city lacked entertainment for underagers she was blunt: YES! “We need more live music, more movie theaters, more places to dance.” She spoke eloquently about the issue when voting in favor of adding a student voting member to the ALRC the other day (proposed by Eagon). Why not have an underage member of the ALRC, who could push for establishments that have liquor licenses as well as non-alcoholic options?

If Madison city officials make it known that they welcome such places, prospective developers would be eager to put forth plans that integrate drinking and non-drinking better. There are way too many concerts, for instance, that you have to be 21 to get into. It’s unacceptable.

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9 Responses to “University Square bar dies in ALRC”

  1. Jesse Says:

    Is this dead? I thought they had referred it. It appears to be on next week’s agenda with a more realistic adjustment to food and alcohol numbers.

    • The Sconz Says:

      Jesse, although the project was originally referred, people involved have told me the applicants have given up. This from Bryon Eagon:

      I am disappointed that the applicants are not coming back to the ALRC for a license and are not continuing with the U Square restaurant project. It is especially disappointing because their proposal of a mixed use, all ages, Badgers sports themed, interactive restaurant is exactly the type of place we want in our downtown and campus area. I know they had some internal financial issues they were unable to resolve but I also know they were pretty turned off by their first ALRC meeting. We, as a city and community, should be working with the applicants, not against them, to try and make this multimillion dollar investment work.

  2. Pete Says:

    Alder Bidar-Sielaff reminded me of the best thing about the old University Square, the theater. The ALRC would probably freak out just as much about a theater with a liquor license and the old ticket prices probably couldn’t support the rent in the new building but, even if you can’t get cheap seats with beer, just about any theater would probably do well in that location.

  3. Jesse Says:

    I just got off the phone with Mike Verveer, the project has indeed been withdrawn by the applicant for many of the reasons Alder Eagon cites. Thanks for catching this! I guess that means Tuesday’s meeting will be much shorter.

  4. Come On Says:

    Yeah this place may look like a 900 person bar to the untrained (or unwilling to open) eye (seemingly Schumacker and Maniaci) but when you break it down its not even close. In fact, you follow Eagon’s suggestions of closing down the upstairs early and such (, it actually has less of a capacity at bar time than the Field Pass which was approved months ago!

  5. Ordinary Jill Says:

    I think the ALRC may feel once bitten, twice shy. Quinton’s advertised itself as a restaurant to get their liquor license, but it wasn’t long before they not only made most of their money in alcohol sales, but they started keeping 18-year-olds out at 10:00 p.m. It slows the bartenders down to have to card someone every time they buy a drink; it’s much more cost-effective to just card at the door.

    The University Square sports bar would also likely have gone in that direction. The reason there are so few live music venues that allow underage students inside is because such places are far less profitable than bars.

    You would have better luck petitioning your legislator (and the Tavern League) to introduce a bill lowering Wisconsin’s drinking age. Perhaps 18-20 years olds could be issued a license to drink (similar to a probationary driver’s license) that has to be renewed every six months. Incidents of drunken stupidity that cause injury or damage to property would cause one to lose their license to drink.

  6. The Sconz Says:

    Jill – there is not a chance in hell that even Wisconsin will lower the drinking age. The vast majority of the public supports it – even though nobody actually expects a person to wait until 21 to drink (I’ve only met one such person in my time at UW). Moreover, legislators always use the federal highway funds as an excuse.

    Not only should 18 year olds have to earn drinking licenses – everybody should!

  7. Bridget Says:

    mr sconz, a quick note re: your post. I was in support of the applicants and their idea. I was very upset at the behavior they faced at ALRC. As your other post correctly quoted, I have found the ALRC to be quite the paternalistic board. not quite sure where my comment entered into this… i dont even remember commenting on this with you. anywho, wanted to set it straight: wish the project’s investor hadn’t pulled out. Wished it would have gotten a fair hearing. U Square needs a good project for the space. these guys had a neat concept & made the most of the already-installed infrastructure valued at $750,000. I fully understood that the actual capacity, especially at bar-time was significantly less than 900. happy labor day. b

  8. Labor Brunch « The Sconz Says:

    […] would like to begin today by posting a correction to a previous post. In discussing the potential bar at University Square, I quoted Ald. Bridget Maniaci as expressing […]

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