Bistro approved, restrictive rule for bars still in place

The East Lansing City Council approved the Black Cat Bistro but held fast on the 50/50 rule requiring bars to have at least half their revenue from food during its Tuesday meeting.

Heavy discussion on hours of operation precluded the 4-1 approval of The Black Cat Bistro, which will move into the former Refinery space on Albert Street. The restaurant will be open until 2 a.m.

The restaurant has struggled to gain council approval at previous meetings after councilmembers voiced concerns about the 110-person capacity, and its intention to offer entertainment and late business hours.

Council also expressed a desire to see fine dining restaurants downtown as opposed to bars — which some members fear The Black Cat Bistro will turn out to be.

“I think this is the starkest example to date of how out-of-date our toolbox is to (get) and retain dining (downtown),” Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett said. “There are no tools at our disposal to get the dining options we are looking for.”

Despite some of council’s concerns, Planning and Zoning Administrator Darcy Schmitt said staying open late is common practice downtown and is vital for The Black Cat Bistro to compete with other businesses.

“Being open ‘til 2 a.m. helps these restaurants,” Schmitt said. “It’s one of those things that …we see all over East Lansing.”

The Black Cat Bistro also finalized a license agreement with council to share the city-owned outdoor space to the west of the restaurant for patio seating at Tuesday’s meeting.

Later in the meeting, the council decided 3-2 to continue downtown restaurants’ alcohol reporting requirements under the 50/50 rule into 2013.

The 50/50 rule requires East Lansing restaurants which serve alcohol to earn at least 50 percent of their revenue from food service. Restaurant owners must report those figures quarterly to the city.

The motion to continue the reporting requirements was supported by most of council, who saw the reporting as a minor issue in comparison to the 50/50 rule itself, which sets the definition for restaurants in the city.

Those in support of dissolving the requirements in the past have said the rule was becoming ineffective since the reporting requirements were poorly enforced, and not all businesses complied to their full extent.

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