So, maybe Birmingham's newest bistro hopeful, Crush, won't be a bistro after all.
Last week, the Birmingham Planning Board recommended that Crush — the wine-themed restaurant looking to move into 555 S. Old Woodward Ave. — receive an economic development license, a form of liquor license for businesses that revive the Woodward Avenue corridor.
However, this is the second set of recommendations for Crush and it will be up to the Birmingham City Commission to decide: should Crush receive an economic development license, a bistro license or nothing at all?
Planning Board unsure of Crush's prospects as a bistro
For Crush, the politics comes down to picking the right kind of license that will win them approval.
Before it went looking for an economic development license — a cheaper form of a Class C liquor license that requires restaurants to either make a significant invesment in or increase the value of a property along Woodward — Crush was vying for a Birmingham bistro license.
In mid-October, the Birmingham City Commission identified Crush, as well as existing restaurants What Crepe? and Birmingham Sushi, as potential recipients of a 2013 Birmingham bistro license.
Under the city's 2007 bistro ordinance, Birmingham only approves two new bistro licenses per year. Bistros are defined as having seasonal sidewalk seating, a full-service kitchen and no more than 65 seats inside and 10 seats at the bar.
While What Crepe? and Birmingham Sushi's plans for minor renovations and new drink menus passed the Planning Board with ease in December, Planning Board members were concerned that Crush might be too big to be a bistro.
Crush's original plans included two second-story balconies facing Woodward and South Old Woodward that could be covered in cooler weather — extending the outdoor dining season and expanding the restaurant from the required limit of 65 seats.
City commissioners warily passed a request last September from Social Kitchen & Bar, a 2012 bistro license recipient, to extend their outdoor dining season with thick, plastic curtains. Ever since, Planning Board members said they've been wary about bistros trying to break from the city's original vision of the bistro license.
With economic development license, Crush free to be as big as it likes
Still, city officials were a fan of Crush's proposed location on South Old Woodward, with the hope that a new bistro could revitalize that end of town.
And on Wednesday, Planning Board members were even more excited about the possibility of Crush moving in but with a different kind of liquor license — thereby keeping the original intent of the bistro license intact.
If approved with an economic development license, Crush wouldn't have any limitations on the number of seats and would become a 236-seat restaurant instead. Currently, the only restaurant with an economic development license is the soon-to-be-closed Zazios, which will be turning into The Stand later this year pending city approval.
"The reason we went this route was because of a conversation we had after the last Planning Board meeting," Rick Rattner, the attorney for Crush, said Wednesday. "It sounded like, to me, that the design of this building was being greatly dictated by the bistro license."
According to Rattner, Crush's plans meet all 19 criteria for an economic development license and should their request be approved, Crush will pull itself out of the running for the two bistro licenses.
Several Planning Board members said while they were initially disappointed by Crush's first presentation, they now believe this new liquor license is a better fit for what Crush is looking to do.
"This concept is right on in terms of the neighborhood," Planning Board member Carroll DeWeese said.
"I was incredibly excited, then disappointed, with your plans," added member Bert Koseck. "This will be a good catalyst for this part of town. It's a lifeless area and this will bring life to it."