Santa Fe Tapas has been accused by neighbors and city attorneys of attracting large, overflow crowds that dominate St. Charles Avenue, blocking traffic, performing dangerous motorcycle stunts and disturbing patrons at nearby businesses — similar charges that led to the Daiquiri Place Cafe being shut down late last year. Attorneys for Santa Fe Tapas have long promised that they would come to an amicable operating agreement with the city to stop the problem while allowing the restaurant to continue operation, and last month said they were at the “one-yard line” on such a deal, with the amount of security guards as the last issue to be worked out.
When the business returned before the city Alcohol Beverage Control board on Tuesday, however, city attorney Dan McNamara said the situation had changed. He had insisted throughout the process that Santa Fe customers not be allowed to take their drinks outside — and thus not be able to serve in go cups — but was suddenly told by Santa Fe’s attorneys last week that this condition wouldn’t be acceptable, he said.
“Unfortunately, the goal line was moved,” McNamara told the board “It was moved last week.”
Attorney David Halpern, representing Santa Fe, said that he never thought of go-cups as the crux of the agreement — that stopping the crowds outside was, and that security was the most effective way to do so. Further, limiting go cups would prevent the restaurant from selling even soft drinks with takeout meals, he said.
“Go cups don’t solve loitering. Personnel solves loitering,” Halpern said. “I never for a second thought that go cups are a problem. The way to solve the problem is people.”
McNamara rejected the ongoing media narrative that the city has anything against go cups, but said in this case they are a specific part of the problem. Allowing customers to take their drinks outside, he said, creates an “open air” festival atmosphere that grows beyond the ability of one or two security officers to control.
The alcohol board had a different concern, that Halpern didn’t receive the city’s list of witnesses or evidence until about a week ago. They agreed that the deal should have been reached by now, but commissioner Nyka Scott said she wouldn’t allow any of that evidence or witness testimony in a trial held Tuesday, and urged the city to reach a last-ditch compromise with Santa Fe to avoid losing the whole case.
After a recess, they came back with a deal: go-cups would be allowed, but they must be printed with a Santa Fe logo so that neighbors and police can tell if they are really no longer reaching the street. Santa Fe must also institute an anti-litter program from the hotel next door down to the Office Depot in the next block and on Thalia Street behind the restaurant. A mix of private and police security will be required as the crowds demand it, and progress on the matter will be reassessed in January.
“We don’t want to just shut a business down, so we’re giving this owner a chance,” Scott said.
Both sides agreed to the terms, and they were read into the record to be ratified next month. Though they no longer needed to testify, two of the witnesses offered their comments voluntarily. Amy Ng of Miyako said she continues to have trouble with Santa Fe customers, and chef Matt Murphy chastised the board for being distracted by what he deemed the “frivolous” go-cup discussion while serious public-safety issues are ongoing.