Every bar owner should not be painted with the same brush.
That, according to James Cavanaugh, whose Iron Bar liquor license extension into space formerly occupied by Zebu Forno was approved by Town Council Tuesday night.
Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid cast the lone dissenting vote. Councilwoman Alison Deeb recused herself, citing an "in-kind" donation from Iron Bar for her freeholder campaign earlier this year during a fundraiser.
Conditions placed on the extension for a new Mexican restaurant concept include reducing bar size from 18 seats to 12, and forcing the stoppage of alcohol sales at 11 p.m. The longtime Morristown property owner said he expects the conditions will cause him to lose a lot of profit.
Cavanaugh—known by many as owner of Jimmy's Haunt, which now is the location of a TD Bank—opened Iron Bar in May. Its main floor has often been packed with revelers on weekends, and a downstairs area set to open by the end of this year is expected to add hundreds more.
Some, however, see the Town Council—which also acts as Morristown's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission—as being inconsistent with approvals.
Just Tuesday night, a proposal by the Walsh family to extend their Tashmoo liquor license for 23 days a year to a 7,000-square-foot outdoor space behind 10 DeHart St. was unanimously denied. The council also denied the Walsh's proposed bowling alley/bar at 10 DeHart St. last summer.
Christine Conti-Collins, of 40 Park, read the council's dissention to the proposed bowling alley/bar, calling for fairness among all applications.
"Addition of another liquor establishment would exacerbate quality of life, parking, garbage, sanitation," Conti-Collins said. "Those are your words, not mine.
"Food is very nice, but you don't need to serve any more alcohol in this town," she added. "Treat every applicant fairly."
Chestnut Street resident Abby Mohr, who has spoken in favor of Walsh-backed proposals in the past, said she was not against Cavanaugh and business partner Daryl Remlinger's "Gran Cantina" Mexican concept. But, "make sure they're treated equally," she said.
Mohr cited William Walsh's Futbolandia No. 2, which was to become a bar/restaurant catering to a Hispanic clientele on Early Street, and the litany of conditions she said the council had placed on it before its liquor license transfer would be approved.
Not everyone at the meeting spoke against the plan.
Danielle DeMargo, a resident at The Highlands at Morristown Station, said she loved the idea of another restaurant coming to town.
And, "serving alcohol enhances the experience," she said. "To have a restaurant with a liquor license, I think it's a good thing."
Nick Kaslov, of Park Place, said that area of town was "all steakhouses" and welcomed a Mexican restaurant.
DeHart Street resident Ravitte Ginsburg said she feared the food part of Gran Cantina, however, would become secondary to alcohol.
"What do we want this town to be," she asked, calling for a balanced mix of urban and suburban features. If bars continue to be approved, ""
The council did ultimately request conditions be attached to the Iron Bar liquor license transfer. In addition to reducing the bar's size and 11 p.m. alcohol cutoff, they included additional security at certain times and during certain events and an enlargement of garbage storage facilities.
This led Robert Williams, the applicant's attorney, to complain about the proposed conditions.
"Eight people spoke here tonight [against the liquor license transfer,]" he said. "You had a handful of letters. This is a restaurant. Over 50 percent of the space is for support services. Why spend so much money if it was there just to sell drinks?
"This isn't an attempt to mask a bar as a restaurant," Williams said, noting Cavanaugh's Iron Bar has not had any ABC violations since opening earlier this year. "We have to have a level playing field. If there is a problem, you have a right to call them in. But, you have to give people an opportunity to be successful. You can't cut their hands off before they get in the game."
Council Vice President Rebecca Feldman said the same problems with establishments serving alcohol in Morristown's Central Business District have not changed since the council voted to deny the bowling alley/bar on DeHart Street.
"There are too many drinkers in too small an area," she said.
Ultimately, after a 15-minute recess, Williams said his clients would comply with the town's conditions.
While he was glad to get the liquor license transfer approved, Cavanaugh was not entirely pleased with how the night had turned out.
"A few people are unjustly influencing the council," he said. "There have been complaints about defecation, beer bottles. I have not seen it myself. I see more Starbucks cups in town than any other trash from other businesses put together."
Cavanaugh said in the 32 years he has been a businessman in Morristown, only one violation ("questionable," he added) had been attributed to one of his operations.
"I think the council has a valid argument with what's happening in town," he said. "But, every bar owner should not be painted with the same brush. Across several properties, I pay $150,000 in taxes a year. I don't demand much, I don't get back much. That's enough."