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Monday, December 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 20.0° F  Overcast
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Madison barkeeps face drinking ban
Change would set zero-tolerance policy for on-the-job imbibing
Ald. Schumacher: 'We've had bartenders really stretch the envelope.'
Ald. Schumacher: 'We've had bartenders really stretch the envelope.'

The city of Madison is considering a proposal to ban restaurant and bar workers from drinking while working. But some say that drinking is a necessary part of the job and that a total ban goes too far.

The proposed ordinance amendment, which will be considered by the Alcohol License Review Committee in January, would make it illegal for "the licensee, agents, officers, directors, partners, members, managers of the licensee, or any employee or independent contractor of a licensed establishment, including members of the licensee's immediate family, to drink or consume any alcohol beverage or to be under the influence of an intoxicant, or controlled substance or a combination of an intoxicant and a controlled substance, while working or performing services on the licensed premises."

Michael Fay, a brewer at the downtown Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., says adopting this rule would make his job impossible.

"A major part of making beer is seeing how it tastes during fermentation. It's just a quality-control issue," he says. "We taste what's on tap just to make sure it's maintaining its quality."

Fay says waitstaff must also taste beers, to describe them to customers. "All these tastings are small sample glasses," he says. "You only need a few ounces to know what it tastes like."

Others fear the rule might also prohibit the time-honored tradition of drinking by band members, since they're technically "independent contractors."

Ald. Mike Verveer, a member of the ALRC, doesn't support the ordinance, which is similar to a proposal introduced at the state level that has drawn similar flak ("Alcohol Serving Rules May Change in Wisconsin," 9/10/09).

"I believe it's a solution in search of a problem," says Verveer, noting that there's already a city ordinance against bartenders being drunk while on duty. "I don't see a crying need for this."

Ald. Michael Schumacher, who is sponsoring the ordinance along with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, disagrees. "We've had bartenders really stretch the envelope," he says. "Somebody may not be legally intoxicated. Given the fact they're responsible for serving alcohol, we don't want them to have any kind of temptation."

Schumacher is open to exempting some workers, such as brewers and bands. "What we're trying to deal with," he explains, "are people responsible for dispensing liquor or in charge of security."

Edgewater vote snowed out

The Common Council's deliberations on an appeal over the Landmark Commission's rejection of the Edgewater Hotel project, set for Tuesday night, were postponed until Dec. 15 because of this week's blizzard.

Had the meeting taken place, three council members were expected to be absent: Larry Palm, Michael Schumacher and Thuy Pham-Remmele. That made getting the requisite 14 votes for an override especially difficult. Will the proposal stand a better chance next week, when only one or two alders are expected to be absent?

"It gives us another week to be lobbied," says Ald. Mike Verveer, who is against overturning the Landmark Commission's decision (See here for Jay Rath's reports). "But it also gives us another week to find a compromise."

The Landmark Commission's controversial ruling to deny expansion of the Edgewater prompted the mayor to declare it "a broken city approval process that needs to be fixed." The issue is that a handful of committees - including the Landmarks Commission - require a super-majority council vote to overturn their decisions, while most of the other commissions merely make recommendations to the council.

"Liquor licenses have to go to council," notes Ald. Paul Skidmore. "Plan Commission recommendations have to go to council. I think the role of the Landmarks Commission, the Urban Design Commission - take your pick down the line - should be to make recommendations to the council."

Skidmore reports that public interest in the Edgewater project is intense. "I've been getting between 150 and 200 emails a day, just like everybody else," he says. "I would say the vast majority are in favor of the Edgewater. Those against it have some interesting arguments."

Group adds to its holdings

A somewhat mysterious downtown property group, Central Focus LLC, has added to its holdings downtown, at an exceptional cost.

Central Focus bought 125 State St. last month for exactly $1 million from Harold Langhammer, who bought the building in 1992 for $67,600. The building has a 2009 assessed value of $287,000.

Marty Rifkin, the only name listed in connection with Central Focus, is vague about his group's plans for the building, which currently houses the gift shop Shangri La Collections. He is also vague about why it is worth so much money.

"Right now we're probably going to hang onto it," he says. "More than likely it will be the restoration of the block. We're not going to do any tearing down."

One reliable source says businessman Jerome Frautschi, who donated over $200 million for the Overture Center, is involved with Central Focus, but Rifkin says: "I don't ever disclose any of my partners."

According to the city's website, Central Focus now owns 121, 125 and 129 State St., and 120 and 122 W. Mifflin St. Acquiring all five properties, starting in 2002, cost Central Focus a total of $5.2 million. The buildings have a total assessed value of $2.7 million.

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