An Old Market bar could be the first target of a city ordinance designed to tackle troublesome night spots.
A City Council committee on Tuesday asked attorneys to go after the Maria Sangria restaurant and bar, formerly known as Denim and Diamonds and Club Irie. The action comes nine months after the council approved a proposal to expand city nuisance controls over liquor retailers.
A city attorney says the council also will likely target Maria Sangria's liquor license.
“The bottom line is there are problems that need to be addressed,” Councilwoman Aimee Melton, a member of the law committee, said of the bar near 11th and Farnam Streets.
Officials link frequent weekend crowd disturbances and fights in and around the area of the restaurant and bar directly to the bar's operations.
“The people in Omaha and the business owners in the Old Market are looking to us on the City Council, asking 'Can't you do something?'?” Melton said.
Maria Scalise, the bar's owner, said she's not the only business owner who has encountered trouble downtown. Disturbances near her restaurant often spill over from other popular downtown watering holes, she said, which partly leads crowds to gather around 11th and Farnam or 12th and Howard Streets.
“To tell you the truth, I'm not the only one who has problems,” Scalise said. “Everybody in the Old Market has it.
“The Old Market had problems before Maria Sangria came in. To me, it's not fair.”
Council members and the state's Liquor Control Commission approved the re-branded restaurant's liquor license early this year.
The council's decision was under the condition, Deputy City Attorney Tom Mumgaard said, that bar owners cut ties with a family member who helped operate the business and controversial party promoters.
In the coming weeks, Mumgaard said, the council will hold hearings to determine the future of the bar's liquor license. Code enforcers will ask the bar to deal with any nuisances around that time. Council members would vote on both punitive measures, which the bar has the right to appeal.
All of this could force Maria Sangria's owners to operate without its parties, or potentially without any alcohol.
“Invite your customers in, feed them and send them away,” Mumgaard said.
The nuisance ordinance approved last year requires liquor retailers to comply with a set of “nuisance prevention standards,” or face the suspension or revocation of their building's occupancy certificate.
Retailers that violate the ordinance's nuisance provisions — which include illegal drug activity, excessive noise or violence — would be targeted under procedures that normally address weeds, litter or noise.
If city code inspectors warn a retailer to get rid of a nuisance, but the retailer doesn't comply in a reasonable amount of time, the council can take action against an occupancy certificate.
The original proposal, introduced after months of lobbying from neighborhood representatives concerned with problem bars and other retailers, would have allowed for the creation of “alcohol impact districts.”
Alcohol retailers within these areas could have been subject to special conditions, including specific business hours for alcohol sales or regulations on a building's signs or entrances.
Such provisions were the subject of fierce opposition from many area liquor retailers and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, prompting an effort from Councilman Pete Festersen to amend the proposal.
Scalise plans to appeal any action taken against her business.
“I want to have a family restaurant and try to serve people,” she said. “And I will prove I'm not the only one having problems in the Old Market.”