City alcohol board takes aim at Grits bar on Annunciation, Uptowner banquet hall on Henry Clay

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The “Gabrielle in Purgatory” dinner in February 2011 at the controversial Uptowner location on Henry Clay Avenue. ( file photo by Sabree Hill)

The latest Uptown establishments to fall under the scrutiny of the New Orleans Alcohol Beverage Control board are Grits bar on Annunciation Street and the Uptowner banquet hall on Henry Clay Avenue, and the effort to bring back Jimmy’s Music Club may also be heard by the panel Tuesday afternoon as well.

The allegations against Grits are maintaining a public nuisance and permitting illegal conduct, according to the board agenda. The Uptowner is also charged with being a nuisance, as well as with delinquent sales tax, licenses and permits.

Representatives of both establishments said they were unaware of the substance of the charges. Chef Greg Sonnier, owner of The Uptowner, said in a brief email that his attorney wasn’t even given notice of the hearing, and labeled the charge “harassment” by the city.

Grits attorney Doug Sunseri said he had been trying unsuccessfully to find out from the city what the basis is for the nuisance charge. The bar submitted a list of about 50 questions to city attorneys when the notice was received, Sunseri said, but so far has received no response.

“They’re saying we violated law, but not saying what the facts are,” Sunseri said. “You can’t prosecute us until you tell us what facts are.”

The bar has received no recent citations from the NOPD, Sunseri said. While neighbors have complained about Grits and neighboring F&M’s Patio Bar, Sunseri said those issues have been resolved, and that no neighbors appeared at the most recent community meeting mandated for the airing of any concerns.

The bar, Sunseri said, understands its responsibilities as a business in a residential area.

“On the other hand, you’ve got people who move next to an airport and start complaining about the planes,” Sunseri said.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda is an appeal by Lucky Tab LLC, the entity slated to reopen Jimmy’s Music Club on Willow Street in west Carrollton, of the city’s denial of an alcohol permit. Attorney Michael Tifft said in an email that he plans to challenge the legality of the moratorium on new alcohol licenses in the Carrollton area.

The docket also includes a nuisance allegation against the Chippewa Food Store, 1684 Chippewa, in the Irish Channel.

The meeting will begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday in City Council chambers. The docket includes 12 items from around the city, and it is not clear which, if any, will be heard on Tuesday or postponed until a later date.

10 thoughts on “City alcohol board takes aim at Grits bar on Annunciation, Uptowner banquet hall on Henry Clay

  1. I’m sure the Uptowner will find out it that it has been violating some rules that were just invented last week, the same way they found out they were violating a zoning designation that didn’t exist prior to Friends Of Clancy’s deciding to run them out of the neighborhood. The BS that has gone on around this location is beyond reprehensible.

    • Agreed. Certain people have taken it upon themselves to destroy a man who purchased a property having done due diligence as to how it was previously used. These people using the power of government have destroyed him. No one cares? When is the next fest? Sick.

    • Thank you WIll_k2 and Elzabeth!! The whole persecution of Greg & Mary Sonnier is a DISGRACE and without merit or foundation. That the behavior of the FOC, BAN (Burtheville Association of Neighbors) and other ill-informed, mean-spirited individuals, is specious. Mary & Greg are important culinary icons of New Orleans, being treated like shite. Come on, let’s stand up for these two brilliant chefs, parents, community members and business owners – they are our people, people.

    • Hear, hear. It is absolutely disgusting. They tried to use a trivial zoning distinction – between “restaurant” and “reception hall” – to shut it down. Of course, a very busy reception facility will affect neighbors in virtually the same way as a restaurant. In any case, the Sonniers have complied by modifying their business model, only now to have predicable nuisance claims brought against them (if it were anybody else I’d take a “wait and see” approach, but given the history here I’m going to need some convincing that this isn’t a pathetic pretext).

      I really do hope the ABO board dismisses these claims. They’ve actually been known to be pretty reasonable in the past (as with the ridiculous sting operations run recently against Witt’s Inn and Dos Jefe’s) but this is far more political.

  2. I have zero knowledge about any of the specific places mentioned, so can’t comment in that respect. However, Sunseri’s ridiculous comment about moving near the airport and then complaining about the noise reflects the attitude of far too many bars in New Orleans. Yes, there are certain problems inevitable with the running of any bar or nightclub, and people who move to the vicinity of one have to put up with it. But no, it is not inevitable that the doors of these places be left open all night: that musicians playing there parade up and down the streets: that patrons walk the streets screaming their heads off, or sit on your steps, or use your sidewalks and alleys for a a bathroom: or that underaged patrons be served alcohol: etc. THESE are the sorts of things that arouse a neighborhood’s ire.

    • I thought his was the best comment in the whole article. If you want to live in a suburbia type atmosphere move to Metairie, not next to a place that has been a popular bar forever!

  3. New Orleans
    Alcohol Beverage Control Board = A Kafka Court in which small business owners
    are prosecuted
    and sentenced by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of their
    crime never revealed. The hearings are held in a surreal, nightmarish milieu.

  4. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! What else? I wish The Sonniers would go after all of these people in court who have taken away their civil liberties. They work hard in pursuit of a happy and productive life and are denied an opportunity at every corner. It’s positively disgusting! Shame on our lawmakers, shame on our city council and shame on the crooks who have stolen their livelihood! You know who you are.

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