In recent years, National City has made it a little harder to open a regular bar while making it a lot easier to open a craft brewery.
The changes began long before. When the city wanted to transform a rough part of town called the Mile of Bars, they turned it into the Mile of Cars, an automotive business strip. In 2018, Embarcadero, the first craft brewery, opened nearby. Then came Over The Tap, a craft beer bar off Mile of Cars Way.
Embarcadero Brewing didn't last, but a new craft beer hub is about to launch, as Novo Brazil expands from Chula Vista to open an 11,000 square foot food hall with an onsite beer bar. The groundwork was laid when the city eased its rules to allow craft breweries in certain zones by-right.
"Craft beer is a different clientele, and the higher prices keep away binge drinking," city planners said.
In one such zone, less than a mile away, a regular bar has passed the scrutiny of the planning commission and will go to city council for the final say, but Paradise VYBZ at 309 Highland Ave. will have to get a conditional use permit.
And commissioners strongly disagreed on whether it will revive the area, which is surrounded by residential and commercial uses.
According to a police risk report, the area is high crime. The bar itself was ranked as medium risk, getting docked for having live entertainment and staying open past 11 pm, but not for being one too many. The census tract now has two on-sale licenses where the city recommends eight.
"I feel this area needs some economic activity, like something more to activate it, but I'm also concerned because there's really bad things that happen in that area," commissioner Garcia said.
Another bar that had live entertainment lost its permit. McDini's is one of several non-conforming, or grandfathered bars. "It doesn't have a CUP for the alcohol sales, just for the live entertainment portion - which was revoked," said principal planner Martin Reeder.
Applicants Natalie and Jean Dumont asked that the city waive the closing time condition of the permit to let them stay open from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. The city said midnight.
So did the Institute for Public Strategies, which analyzed the effects the bar might have on the community. Nearby businesses opposed the bar.
Most businesses the city deals with that sell alcohol are restaurants that close from 10 to 12 pm. The businesses that don't have conditional use permits can sell alcohol as late as 2 a.m. "But at this point with the bars it's been midnight," Reeder said.
"And with the craft beer tasting rooms that are allowed by-right, those are required to close at 9."
The proposed bar is on the ground floor of a 1,600-square-foot mixed-use building that has two residential units directly over the bar. "If those are working people and they go to bed after 2 a.m., poor them," said commissioner Yamane.
Natalie Dumont said they held a noticed neighborhood meeting on site but no one showed up. The city will require noise to be limited to 50 decibels at night and smoking must be 20 feet from the entrance to the building.
"Are you supportive of the craft beer industry?" asked commissioner Sandt. Would it just be a Budweiser or Coors bar, "or are you going to actually support some of the locals with their craft beers?"
They would like to offer local beers, she said. "I don't want it to be just a regular beer that you can go into the store and buy."
Another support for local businesses is when food is brought in to a bar. A city policy includes food in the requirements for a conditional use permit. (The sale of alcohol shall not exceed the sale of food and alcohol must be available only in conjunction with the purchase of food). The applicants sought a waiver of the food part, too, since the craft brewery applicants were able to.
"Some of those businesses did receive that flexibility" because there were restaurants nearby, commissioner Garcia said. Over the Tap is near Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, In N' Out – "you name it." And it will be the same for Novo Brazil. "Will people be allowed to bring in food to your establishment?" he asked.
"Our goal is literally a beer and wine bar," Dumont said, but they were open to changes.
"Only previous businesses that have been grandfathered have an opportunity to just be a bar. It's very limited in the city. I think there's a few, maybe five at the most," Garcia said.
Michael Harwig, chef/owner of Not Your Momma's, 338 feet away, liked the stipulation on outside food, "because I'm right down the road from them."
The building has sat empty for years, he said. "We need to revitalize this area. There's nothing going on besides my place and the barber shop and La Maestra clinic. Somebody said something earlier about the Mile of Bars – but I don't think Mile of Bars is ever coming back."
"It's just a totally different society now."