Berta’s Tap in Ottawa will be closed until Sept. 2 after the Clinton Street bar and restaurant was found to have violated the city’s liquor ordinance, which states a bar cannot play loud music after midnight.
Ottawa Mayor Dan Aussem said noise complaints weren’t technically what led to Berta’s Tap’s liquor license getting suspended as was believed after a Thursday City Council meeting discussion.
Aussem said the city reached an agreement Wednesday that Berta’s Tap would pay $1,000 in fines and take a week’s suspension of its liquor license in return for accepting guilt for four of the seven filed noise violations. The liquor license suspension is specifically in reference to the violation of the liquor ordinance, not the noise ordinance.
“(Thursday’s) meeting was supposed to be so we could get some compromise and figure some things out about the ordinance,” Aussem said. “Two of the Berta’s owners came in and turned it into a challenge of our agreement that stipulated they close down for a week and pay some fines.”
Dan Patton, with Berta’s Tap, asked during Thursday’s meeting why a single resident with a complaint can get a liquor license taken away when nobody else on the block has an issue with it.
The issue started with nearby resident Kevin Bressendorf filing multiple noise complaints dating back to May 2, when the bar was found to have live music playing at 1:14 a.m. It received a second liquor ordinance violation at 12:10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 21.
“We’re not looking for a silent thing,” Bressendorf said. “We’re talking about things that are happening at 11:30, 12 at night and I think our last number was even a call at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. We’re not being difficult.”
Bressendorf said Thursday as a resident, he’s looking for an ordinance that has a fair volume listed on it. Last Friday night, he stood outside with a decibel reader that read 104 decibels. Once he went inside his apartment, it read 74 decibels, which he said is louder than a face-to-face conversation would be.
Aussem said a time came when he lost patience with Berta’s because instead of changing their behavior after getting tickets, they were OK with paying the $75 fines. Berta’s Tap received four tickets over last weekend alone.
“I think anyone who reads into this is going to see a difference,” Aussem said. “You know, when I was growing up, the police pull you over and you say ‘yes, sir’ or ‘no, sir’, not ‘I don’t care. I’m gonna keep doing it.’ ”
Aussem said the city has to get something to measure noise so it can be decided what decibel will be in a new ordinance.
“Bottom line is, we’ll have to figure out how far away we measure from,” Aussem said. “We can’t be next to the drum set when you measure. Most of the ordinances I saw said 25 feet to 55 feet away from the business.”
Aussem said the city is going to address the problems, set the rules and have something concrete to go by moving forward. He said if the solution doesn’t work, it can always be amended.
Ottawa Police Chief Brent Roalson said he is concerned with using an ordinance from another city as a base for a new ordinance, because Ottawa has a residential downtown. The neighborhood near Berta’s Tap is a combined residential-commercial zone, meaning businesses can operate there while people are living there.
“What I would like to see is once we determine what the ordinance will be, we purchase decibel meters that the city’s police department can use so everyone’s on a level playing field,” Roalson said. “We can test the noise with that and self police it, if you will, so we don’t have a situation where somebody calls us and we can just ask the bars to control the music.”