There's no free beer at a licensed business in Michigan and South is accused of breaking a law that prohibits restaurants and bars from giving away alcoholic drinks.
"It's actually funny, but just not to us," said South co-owner Steve Puertas, whose plastic folding sign promoted the April 12 entertainment. After touting 29 plasma-screen TVs, the last three lines said: "LIVE MUSIC THURS FREE BEER."
It's the latest in a series of public embarrassments for the South Old Woodward bar and nightclub, which is having a rough spring:
- City officials and residents voice concerns about disturbances inside and outside South, including an April 2 gunshot in the air by a 29-year-old Redford woman who had just left the club.
- City Manager Bob Bruner asked police last week to "determine whether or not a pattern of patron conduct exists that would warrant a public hearing" about the bar's liquor license.
- An online petition has support from 194 people seeking a review of South's liquor license.
- Weekend valet service there and at two other clubs now ends at midnight by police order, rather than at 2 a.m.
Police Chief Don Studt called South's attorney before the latest enforcement action, according to a case report his department gave to Patch.
Kelly Allen, the lawyer, "informed Chief Studt that the sign was advertising the name of the band that was playing at the bar," said the report's two-page narrative portion. "Ms. Allen informed the Chief that it was never the intention of South Bar to offer free beer."
'Targeting individual businesses'
According to South general manager Bethany Spadafore, "as soon as we were notified that the city had a concern about the sign, we immediately removed it." Spadafore, whose husband Joe is a co-owner, responded to quuestions by email Wednesday.
"The city is not looking at the bigger problems facing Birmingham's Principal Shopping District," said Spadafore, a 36-year-old Birmingham resident. "It is time that the city stop reacting and start working with the business community, including the Birmingham-Bloomfield Chamber and others, in identifying the problem and talking about solutions — rather than targeting individual businesses like ours."
Deputy Chief Mark Clemence wrote in the complaint that he sent two officers to photograph the sign after receiving "information via email from a man by the name of David Edwards," who attached "two pictures of the sign." Those images and three from police are in the case file.
Shortly before Officers Kate Long and Scott Grams visited South with a camera the morning of April 11, two Patch readers commented about what they believed was no-cost beer.
"South is giving away FREE BEER this Thursday nite, as advertised on a big sandwich board sign that is on the outside steps of the bar," posted a reader using the name Lois Washington. "It doesn't sound like giving away FREE BEER is part of the solution." Another person, identified as D. Jones, added: "The sign was noticed yesterday and photographed this morning."
'Vigorous' defense planned
Allen told Birmingham Patch on Wednesday that her client "had absolutely no intent to violate any city ordinance or rule of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission." The Bloomfield Hills attorney, a liquor licensing specialist, added: "South will vigorously defend any administrative action" brought by Lansing regulators.
Free Beer guitarist Jim Edelman of Salem Township, a TV producer and former Clear Channel national sales manager, is surprised his group's name provoked legal trouble.
"This is a first" for the band founded in 1993, he said. "It's never come up, and we've had our name on marquee signs."
Edelman, a former Bloomfield Hills resident, acknowledged "some bars have put 'live band' after the band name" as a way to avoid confusion."
He added: "We're five guys nearing 50 with professional day jobs — two engineers and three ad guys. We're extremely bummed because South is a fun place to play."
Free Beer keyboardist Scott Brown and drummer Tom Daldin are Seaholm High graduates who grew up in Birmingham.
In his April 11 violation notice, Clemence said: "Any person looking at the sign would be led to the conclusion that the bar was offering 'free beer' in terms of not charging money for an alcoholic beverage (beer). ... The promotion of offering 'free beer' could certainly encourage excessive alcohol consumption."
Zoning citation also issued
Police didn't stop there. "The sandwich sign itself ... was a violation of the City of Birmingham's zoning ordinance," Clemence said in his report's last paragraph. "South Bar will be cited by the City of Birmingham Code Enforcement officer."
More is involved than administrative hearings and potential fines. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission receives the violation accusations, which could jeopardize the bar's state license to serve alcohol.
"This is a very serious issue which we are serious about resolving," general manager Spadafore said.
Addressing the zoning citation, she added: "The fact is that South Bar asked the city if it could display a sandwich board sign last year and took the City's guidance about where to place the sign. The sign itself has been up many times without complaint."
The co-owner's wife also takes aim at the publisher of Downtown Birmingham/Bloomfield, which posted the anti-South petition at Change.org.
"It is time that ... Downtown (Publications) stop using its publication to selectively target an established business like ours and focus on finding solutions," Spadafore said.
Free Beer is booked at South again April 28 for a Saturday night show that won't be promoted with a sign.
Before the city citations, Edelman joked on his band's Facebook page about comments criticizing South's presumed beer giveaway. "We're considering a name change to Cheap Prostitutes," he posted April 11. "That ought to cause a few embolisms."