Past underage drinkers hinder local ‘hang out’

Emily Dalnodar

The Gopher Hole closed its doors in March because of problems with alcohol and mainly underage drinkers. If Sub-Zero, the building’s new tenants, close their doors soon, it will be from lack of alcohol.
When Alex Davis, Gary Davis and Jim Helvig opened Sub-Zero in June they didn’t want to serve alcohol. Most of the University’s undergraduate population is under 21, so they designed their establishment with those students in mind.
Four months into their lease at 412 Fourth St. S.E., the owners are feeling the effects of that decision. While the place is strikingly clean, boasts high-quality video games, darts and pool, and serves burgers, sandwiches and 10-pound pizzas, they turn away potential customers who just want a beer.
“It’s hard to compete without beer,” Alex Davis said. An overwhelming majority of restaurants in Dinkytown serve beer.
To keep up with their competition, the owners applied for a beer license in late July. But after a month in the license inspector’s office, their application turned up incomplete. Their second application is still under investigation. Part of the holdup stems from problems with the site’s previous owners and their mishandling of liquor privileges.
“We are not going to readily approve another strong beer and wine license,” said license inspector Laura Boyd. “In fact, we’d probably say no.”
Her sentiments, along with stringent codes governing strong beer and wine permits, prompted the owners to apply for a 3.2 beer license instead. Now they have a whole new set of roadblocks to plow through.
Since a 3.2 permit is less restrictive with food sales, their establishment would be considered more a bar or “hang out” than restaurant, Boyd said. This designation necessitates more parking spaces, and in Dinkytown, parking is never an easy issue.
“Everything is stacked against us,” said Gary Davis. “There’s no parking in front because of construction (of a new Hollywood Video).”
The Dinkytown Business Association has granted Sub-Zero a variance on parking to lessen restrictions, but even this hasn’t helped. According to Boyd, the variance can only affect zoning codes, not beer codes.
So while the city’s licensing division sorts out the parking problems, Sub-Zero’s profit margin has been just that — sub zero. With a monthly rent into the thousands, they will only survive another couple months unless something changes.
Licensing division recommendations for the beer license should be ready for the next city council meeting on Oct. 7. If it passes, Sub-Zero could have beer within the week.
Alex Davis, Gary Davis and Jim Helvig are keeping their fingers crossed.