Booze in the Ville: The Politics and Mathematics of Alcohol Sales
Posted by cmh gourmand on April 22, 2013
I am a Clintonville Citizen and I approve my own message:
There are three issues that long time Clintonvillians hold as crucibles among their neighbors.
1) The Morse-Bethel Road Connector (I am against it, I think I wrote a good letter to the editor about it years ago).
2) Widening the intersection at High Street and East North Broadway (I see both sides of the argument. I sympathize with both sides of the argument. I think most of the people against it are crackpots. I think all the people for it don’t live on East North Broadway. My position. Typically neutral, but I would vote for a compromise which would be a southbound right turn lane added to the West-East lane. This would cut down on traffic and would only affect a building that is on its last legs – no trees lost, no houses hindered and hopefully a good payout the property owner for being a good citizen.
3) Alcohol Sales in Clintonville All over Clintonville. To that I say yes. Or at least mostly yes.
My mission is to discuss item number three. There was an urban legend that Clintonville was the dry part of the city. Such is not the case. For the most part the area is wet and has been for many decades. One of the oldest bars in the city is the Crest Tavern – now the Crest Gastropub. Many years ago, I did a Clintonville Bar crawl which involved drinking at 13 bars in 14 hours (with a 2 hour siesta to eat pizza and watch a horse race at my house). Since then, a few bars and several even better beer shops have been added to the mix of choices. However some areas remain dry most notably the area by my house. On May 7th, residents in Clintonville will be able to change that. I hope they come out in droves to vote yes. I will.
A much better article by a writer with better pedigree in a publication with a much larger fan base will hint at the argument I am going to proffer. Maybe people will connect the dots when the article is published or surmise the doctrine I am getting ready to preach. However, to help those that might vote before the article comes out here we go.
First let’s start with the possible reasons that people might have been against alcohol sales in the past. Clintonville is a very family oriented part of town that really hit its original peak in the 1960’s. Having watched four seasons of Mad Men, I could see why residents would have wanted to cut down on the sales of alcohol in our fair community – Clintonville would have been a Peyton Place of debauchery. In the modern era, I can say that most of the bars in Clintonville really suck – with the exception of O’Reilly’s, maybe Bob’s Bar and hopefully the brand new Crest Gastropub. I could see people wanting to hold mediocrity at bay. We have about the same number of “meh” pizzerias in the area. Just say no to more lame bars and average pizza, say yes to the chance a well crafted meal. I am sure there are other thoughtful reasons why certain areas of Clintonville were/are anti-alcohol and if you know those, please post here.
Now for why I am pro and why I hope others will be voting yes as well. The major gripe of residents of Clintonville is a lack of good restaurant choices. While a restaurant does not need alcohol sales to be successful, it really, really helps. As for me, I usually don’t drink at dinner but I observe that quite a few do. Studies show that people generally limit their alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks with a meal. This is not enough to risk public drunkenness but it is enough to make a sizeable increase in a restaurants bottom line. Beer and wine are easy to serve and store and even easier to mark up. Many a restaurant will mark it up a lot. While a good cocktail requires a good, skilled bartender who can mix a good drink, engage in good banter with the customers, somehow not want to rip off the owner of the establishment and have the common sense and tact to cut people off at the right time in the right way – a good beer or wine just requires someone with the skill to open a bottle. Most people can do that well with the right tool and for a lower wage.
I have seen many restaurants come and go in Clintonville over the years. The one I miss the most, strangely, is G.D. Ritzey’s. Many closed because they had a mediocre product and mediocre service and that is something alcohol sales can’t fix. But to get the right restaurants and the right traffic flow industry knowledge tells us that alcohol sales is the key. It does not have to be liquor but wine and beer do help sales a lot. The profit margins on a middle of the road menu are pretty narrow and money is made in volume and turning tables quick. If you want to have a higher grade of food and the profit margins that go with it an owner needs something to entertain the common man between courses and to provide pompous Epicureans something to pontificate about….their knowledge of wine.
I have discussed Clintonville with several successful restaurant owners and business developers. What are the barriers to having the type of restaurants we want…..an alcohol permit. Part of the problem is a city buracracy that is burdensome to deal with and second part blocking the solution are a few dry districts with a few people that fear having suds near their abodes. The spot we would all like to see do well but has floundered is the spot on High Street that was: Scottie McBean and Babuska’s and will someday be Talitas. The two former eateries were “meh” – average food with some nice people that tried did not make it. Would beer and wine sales saved either of these businesses….in the long run, I think not. But the location would be much more attractive to someone to try if they could add a high mark up item to the menu. Place a strong menu driven restaurant with a few alcoholic beverages in that spot and it could do well. The demand is there. Look at Villa Nova just up the road- a bastion of middle of the road dining for decades. While the bar is not the reason for the success of the place – it has helped a lot. When the Wildflower Cafe added alcohol sales – it was the shot in arm the place needed to uptick sales in a slow economy. (Please by no means assume I am saying think Wildflower is fine dining – I might say average, but I like having the place in the community and want to keep it and others like it). The Crest Gastropub is going to help drive south Clintonville to a new level or prosperity and keep more of our dining dollars near home. I would love to see more places like that in North Clintonville as an alternative to…..nothing.
What might turn this tide? Mozart’s and Vienna Ice Cafe. The owners have purchased a property near Morse Road to move into. The have a long history in our community. They are committed to the restaurant they plan to open with or without alcohol sales but they are asking Clintonville to vote to allow them to have the opportunity to serve alcohol. Their friends and employees hit the streets to ask people to sign the petition. I hope the issue passes and I hope that increases the chance of Mozart’s and any other new restaurants in the area in their the odds of survival and sustainability. It costs money to bring the issue to the table and it will cost money not to have it pass but it will cost all of us additional culinary options and opportunities if we do not open up the last areas of our community to the pursuit of happiness in the form of an overpriced beer, an overvalued glass of wine or locally produced spirit. Vote yes, to give our community hope to brighten our gray culinary landscape and help us grow our community by adding what people have said has been missing forever – better restaurant choices.