Planners approve hookah lounge entertainment

Published 8:18 pm Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A couple of local business owners on Tuesday gained unanimous approval from the Planning Commission for a permit to have live entertainment, but they said they remain frustrated with the process of trying to open and improve their business.

The Toke Hookah Lounge operates in this building at 137 W. Washington St.

The Toke Hookah Lounge operates in this building at 137 W. Washington St.

LaTroy Brinkley and Eurnicka Artis are partners in Toke Hookah Lounge at 137 W. Washington St. Both already own other businesses in the city — Serendipity Salon for him and EA Tax Service for her.

They’ve been working to open the hookah lounge for more than two years, Brinkley said Tuesday, and just got it open in April. They would like to be able to provide live entertainment, they said, including jazz, karaoke, poetry reading and belly dancing. Doing so requires a conditional use permit from the city.

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“This two-year process hasn’t been the best process,” Brinkley told the Planning Commission on Tuesday. He called it “unsettling and disappointing.”

One hurdle was that the lounge opened without being able to provide live entertainment, Brinkley said.

“We’re really losing out here,” he said, noting he and Artis have invested a considerable amount of their personal funds. “Eurnicka and I have a lot to lose here.”

They have a seven-year lease on the space, which is equipped with a special ventilation system to prevent the tobacco smoke from wafting into other businesses or apartments. Monument Construction did that for them, Brinkley said, during its renovation of that and several other former retail buildings on the block to become loft apartments with commercial spaces on the first floor.

Former mayor Andy Damiani, who owns several buildings on the other side of the street with 33 tenants — and lives in one of them — urged the Planning Commission to approve the permit.

“The applicants have really come forward and invested a lot,” he said. “We don’t know how it’s going to work out. It’s a gamble, no question about it. … I think we need to give them a chance.”

The discussion on Tuesday was complicated by Brinkley’s request during his comments that the business be allowed to add beer and wine sales without further delay. But there was some confusion on whether that requires a separate conditional use permit.

It is not permitted in the current certificate of occupancy, according to a staff report presented to the Planning Commission.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the original request for live entertainment. It will be heard by the City Council on Aug. 19.

The request carries 11 conditions, including that interior and exterior lighting and an alarm system be provided and maintained, that a digital video surveillance system be on site and an employee able to operate it on staff at all times, that the business is responsible for minimizing loitering in front of the business and that all security staff or bouncers will be certified by the Department of Criminal Justice Services.