Replay Lounge license at risk

City Hall, bar owners overlooked renewal when due in spring


Mike Yoder /

Valerie Taylor -- a Washburn University junior and a bartender at Replay Lounge -- serves drinks at the downtown establishment. The city-issued drinking establishment license for Replay Lounge lapsed last spring and was never renewed -- in part because city officials got out of the habit of sending renewal notices to bars. Now the Lawrence City Commission must treat the 10-year-old bar as if it were a brand-new applicant. Taylor, who was tending the bar Friday, was hopeful the bar would keep its license. "I can't be out of a job right now," she said.

A goof-up at City Hall has patrons of a popular downtown bar worrying about its future.

"Replay Lounge is a Lawrence institution by now," longtime customer Caterina Benalcazar said Friday. "Them losing their license would mean the end of a key dimension of the Lawrence music scene."

Officials said Friday the city-issued drinking establishment license for the bar at 946 Mass. lapsed last spring and was never renewed -- in large part because city officials got out of the habit of sending renewal reminders.

"It was not a conscious decision to stop," City Clerk Frank Reeb said Friday, admitting the city made a mistake. "We didn't follow up as much as we should have."

The lapse was so lengthy, however, commissioners at their meeting Tuesday will treat the decade-old bar as if it were a brand-new applicant. And that means they will have to decide whether to approve a waiver for Replay to sell alcohol, even though the Salvation Army sits less than 400 feet away at 946 N.H.

A Salvation Army official said he would oppose a waiver.

"We are going to uphold and keep our standards," Salvation Army administrator Rich Forney said Friday. "It's a moral and spiritual obligation."

Commissioner Boog Highberger was part of the 3-2 majority of commissioners who voted this week against alcohol sales at the soon-to-be-opened PepperJax Grill, 947 N.H., because of Forney's opposition. The situation is different at the Replay, Highberger said Friday.

"They are an established business, they serve a need in our community and I'm not going to vote against the waiver," Highberger said.

Music scene
The Replay has played host to local and national bands since 1994, and news of its problems at City Hall alarmed some patrons.

Jen Dreiling said she enjoyed summer evenings in the bar's outdoor beer garden.

"It's a social atmosphere, rather than just sitting on your front porch," Dreiling said. "It would be a shame to lose that experience."


Thad Allender /

Reggie and the Full Effect perform to a packed house at the Replay last fall.

Nick Carroll, a co-owner of the Replay, declined comment Friday.

In addition to the Salvation Army, the Replay is within the 400-foot boundary of First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt. City officials said the Methodist church would be neutral on the Replay's request for a waiver.

Forney, however, this week successfully opposed the granting of an alcohol sales license to PepperJax Grill because of its proximity to his church, which also is home to a city-subsidized homeless shelter. He said he would make the same case about the Replay.

"We are still within 400 feet," he said. "I do know the city commissioners have a difficult decision to make. We're upholding a uniform standard, and that's important."

Long-standing tradition
Commissioner David Schauner, who has taken a hard-line stance against downtown drinking establishments, said City Hall's role in the lapse would probably lead him to take a more favorable view of the Replay's waiver request.

"I certainly don't want to trick anybody into not renewing, if that was their intention," Schauner said.

Reeb, meanwhile, said the city was not required by its codes to notify bars that it was time to renew their licenses.

"But I think it's good to do," Reeb said.

The practice is a long-standing tradition, he said, noting that Lawrence bars generally renew their city licenses at the same time they renew their state licenses.

The Replay is the only bar that has missed its license renewal because the city's letter didn't go out, Reeb said.

He said his office in January re-established procedures to notify bars when the time has come for license renewal.

"It did take several months (to catch the lapse), and it was a mistake on our part," Reeb said. "But we did catch it."

The commission will consider the waiver at its meeting at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.


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