Eatery below sober space to sell booze
by Matthew S. Bajko
A new restaurant proposed to be housed in the same building as a Castro sobriety center plans to sell beer and wine.
Local businessman George "Jorge" Maumer is seeking city and state approval to open a sausage grill in the garage space below the Castro Country Club. As part of the plan, Maumer intends to seek a liquor license for the new eatery.
Maumer, who also owns Superstar Video on Castro Street, bought the property at 4058 18th Street in January for a reported $1 million.
At the time he pledged to maintain as a tenant the Castro Country Club, which describes itself as "a safe haven for LGBT people in recovery from drugs and alcohol" on its website. The club has been housed in the 1901 Edwardian since April 1983, but after the death of the longtime property owner in 2010, club leaders feared the new owners would evict them.
They had launched a fundraising campaign with the hope of being able to purchase the building outright. The sale of the property turned contentious last year after housing activists tangled with one potential buyer in front of the club, and the club's general manager voiced concerns about being evicted from the third-floor apartment he shares with other tenants.
With the backing of District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, Maumer emerged as the buyer shortly after the new year. Club officials have since turned their attention to securing a long-term lease from Maumer as they plan to part ways with their longtime fiscal sponsor Baker Places in July.
It had been known that Maumer planned to turn the building's unused garage space into a retail location. But it was not until he and his architects presented their plans last week at the April 5 meeting of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro that it became public Maumer was seeking permission to open a restaurant with on-site alcohol sales.
At first Ahmad Mohazab, a principal at the San Francisco-based firm Tecta Associates, was incredulous when asked by the Bay Area Reporter during the MUMC meeting if the restaurant would sell liquor.
After saying it was "incredibly inappropriate" to ask such a question, Mohazab then said, "alcohol was not part of the permit application at this time."
The response prompted Maumer, who remained seated in the audience during the presentation, to speak up and say that he planned to seek permission to sell "perhaps beer and wine at the most."
The incongruity of having liquor sold on the same premises as an agency dedicated to helping gay men, in particular, remain sober prompted newly elected MUMC President Terry Asten Bennett to ask if that was "in conflict with the mission of the building?"
Terry Beswick, the country club's manager, said that was a question best left to the country club management and board to answer. He did note that a number of gay bars and restaurants that serve alcohol already border the club.
In terms of having an eatery selling booze one floor below the country club, Beswick added that its "just being downstairs is not going to make anyone relapse."
Wiener told the B.A.R. this week that he has yet to receive any negative feedback about the planned restaurant. While he stopped short of giving it his full endorsement, as the matter may come before the board, he indicated that he wants to see whatever business moves in be successful.
"I think that we all want the business to succeed because the success of that business will help stabilize the property and keep the Castro Country Club there as a long-term tenant. This is all linked together," said Wiener. "Obviously, you have to be sensitive introducing any alcohol close to the club. On the other hand, you want to make sure the club has a long-term stable space. Those two are linked, as ironic as that may seem."
There is nothing in the state codes pertaining to alcohol sales that would outright prevent Maumer from acquiring a liquor license at that location, according to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
As the property is in the heart of a residential neighborhood in addition to the Castro business district, the ABC website does state that the agency "will not license a new retail location within 100 feet of a residence unless the applicant can establish that the operation of the proposed premises will not interfere with the quiet enjoyment of the property by residents."
"As is the case with all applications, ABC will conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that consideration is given to any hospital, treatment center, residence, school, church or other public facility that might be affected by a location that serves alcohol to the public," stated ABC spokesman John Carr in an emailed response to questions from the B.A.R.
Maumer's plans likely will face opposition from some nearby residents opposed to seeing any new liquor licenses granted and some country club members who are against seeing alcohol served on site, said one person with close ties to the club who did not want to be quoted by name as the facility is still in negotiations over its lease.
MUMC voted last week to support the planned Castro Sausage Grill, whose name has yet to be finalized. The plans call for digging out the garage area to construct the new restaurant space, with 24 indoor seats. There is also the potential for a small retail space at the site.
Another 12 outdoor seats are proposed on what is now the driveway. The plan calls for removing the curb cut to create a new parking space on 18th Street.
Toward the back of the building a new office or meeting room space would be built. Access would be by a new hallway that would run to the left of the eatery or from doors off the rear yard patio.
"There is very little impact on the building itself. Instead of garage doors you would see storefront glass," said Mohazab.
The architects expect to go before the Planning Commission this summer, and once approved, the build out would last up to eight months. The earliest the restaurant could open would be in early 2013.