First, the patio at Avenues Bistro on Third was shut down because it violated city zoning laws.
Now, the tiny speakeasy in the basement has been voluntarily closed because it may violate city fire codes and it lacks a proper operating permit.
“Does the city have something against me?” Bistro owner Kathie Chadbourne asked on Monday.
Absolutely not, says Art Raymond, spokesman with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s office. “We have not cited her.”
Problems for the tiny restaurant started last October, when a neighbor complained about the noisy outdoor patio. City enforcement officers visited the business, in a residential area at 564 E. Third Ave., and determined the location was not zoned for outdoor seating.
After the patio closure, Chadbourne made personal visits to the city’s planning and building departments to make sure the restaurant was in compliance in other areas.
Raymond said during those visits it became clear that Chadbourne never received an occupancy permit to have customer space in the basement.
“When she came in we became aware of it and staff has tried to walk her through the process,” he said. “We’re definitely here to help get the space into compliance.”
The city also claims there may be issues with fire safety, namely because the basement room lacks a fire suppression (sprinkler) system.
After talking to fire officials, Chadbourne believes she does not need a suppression system which would cost $18,000. But she decided to close the speakeasy until the confusion with the city is worked out.
Adding a suppression system would be a major expense for the space that’s only 15 feet by 15 feet and seats 12 people. There are more steps leading down to the lounge area than there are places to sit.
Technically not a bar, the speakeasy operates under the Bistro’s full-service restaurant license. That means customers can order a drink while waiting to dine upstairs or they can eat while imbibing below. Either way, they must order food.
Fixing the basement would be just one more expense for Chadbourne and her landlord, Jude Rubadue. Both have invested “thousands and thousands of dollars” into the building, which was built in 1905, Chadbourne said.
The restaurant is closed until Jan. 15 while workers install a special restaurant ventilation system, which cost $30,000, said Chadbourne.
Meanwhile, Rubadue has been to the Avenues Community Council, the first step in getting a zoning variance from the city. They hope to get approval for the patio before the weather gets warm.
“We were doing so well. Then all of this started happening,” Chadbourne said. “It shouldn’t be this tough to run a business.”