FARGO - Cowboy Jack's, a restaurant and bar coming to downtown, got its liquor license from city leaders Monday, April 9, but it also sparked a serious discussion about public drunkenness and safety in the neighborhood.
The big question was whether the new business at 506 Broadway N. would contribute to those growing problems.
Dave Erickson, who owns several bars in the Fargo-Moorhead area such as Hennessy's Irish Pub and the Red Hen Taphouse, said he intends to promote a family atmosphere with lunch and dinner service.
Certainly he'll sell alcohol, he said, but that's not the only part of his business plan. "There will be a weekend crowd. We're not denying that. But we can't survive on just weekends," he said.
Josie Danz, manager of the neighboring Zandbroz Variety shop and one of the most outspoken opponents of the liquor license, said she's been in other Cowboy Jack's in the chain and this newest one will be a wild night club like all the others.
She said there are already too many bars downtown, especially in the 500 block where Cowboy Jack's will be, and police have their hands full. Many existing businesses and residents as well as the police agreed, citing the large number of police calls for service, trespassing drunks and fears of assault.
City commissioners voted 3-2 to grant the liquor license with Mayor Tim Mahoney and Commissioner John Strand dissenting.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, one of the "yes" votes and chairman of the Liquor Control Board, promised there will be a crackdown on businesses that contribute to public drunkenness.
The liquor license that Cowboy Jack's got is a Class A license, which allows a business to sell any kind of alcohol without having to serve any food. That's how the Bismarck Tavern and Empire Liquors, the other two Class A licensees on the 500 block, operate.
Those bars came up a lot during public comments at Monday's meeting though not always by name.
Murphy Anderson, who works downtown and lives a couple of blocks north of both bars, said she's worried adding a third Class A bar would stretch police resources. "As a young woman, I should not have to walk on a particular side of the street or plan my walk home based on the time of day but I do," she said.
Police Chief David Todd, a liquor board member who voted against granting Cowboy Jack's the Class A license, said the concentration of alcohol-serving businesses downtown, which now numbers 51, has definitely driven up the calls for service. With residents and businesses telling him they're concerned, he said, he has to take that seriously.
Danz and others pointed out that if Cowboy Jack's intended to be a family restaurant it would get a cheaper Class FA license, which requires at least half the revenue come from food sales.
But Erickson said it wouldn't be easy to ensure that always happens because he plans on having food specials, such as $2 burgers. And if it doesn't, he could lose his license and that would jeopardize the $750,000 he's investing in the business.
Piepkorn said he's concerned about the vitality of the area north of the railroad tracks, which includes the 500 block. There are three empty storefronts and public safety concerns, he said, and he's glad someone is investing in the area who wants to bring a family atmosphere.
Sally Loeffler, owner of Beyond Running and Outermost Layer, both in the 500 block, said she initially didn't want Cowboy Jack's there but did research and found no evidence that Erickson intends to offer steep discounts on drinks. She said she found instead a business focused on lunch and dinner and family activities. "To me that sounds like a pretty awesome addition to downtown, especially on a block that sees less traffic than most," Loeffler said.
After the commission's vote, Danz said she was "disappointed." She said she doesn't quite believe city leaders will crack down on drunkenness because her business has been complaining about the problem for 27 years.
Downtown used to be all bars and things were bad, she said. The neighborhood has improved a lot, she said, but allowing more liquor licenses downtown would hurt progress.