Artmosphere cleared, will remain open

by Walter Pierce

“In light of the figures that you’ve given us, I am going to rule in favor of Artmosphere this morning...”

Artmosphere owner Berry Kemp, right, hugs a supporter following Wednesday's hearing.

“In light of the figures that you’ve given us, I am going to rule in favor of Artmosphere this morning, that you have met the requirements as called for by Title 26 of the state of Louisiana,” said Troy Hebert, commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, moments before striking his gavel to adjourn Wednesday’s hearing in the council auditorium at City Hall in Lafayette. Roughly two dozen people, many of them musicians who showed up to support Artmosphere owner Berry Kemp, threw up a cheer as Kemp turned, sighed in relief and began hugging friends and supporters.

In what amounted to a capital trial with her license to serve alcohol on the line, Kemp and her popular live music club-slash-bistro-slash-OK-it’s-really-kind-of-a-bar were cleared of charges that Artmosphere wasn’t selling enough food versus alcohol to satisfy Louisiana law, which requires restaurants to earn more than 50 percent of their income on food and non-alcoholic beverages. Hebert even declined to fine Kemp, noting that the roughly $28,000 of her own money she spent in the second half of 2014 on food to artificially pump up her percentages — a practice Hebert said at the hearing is not recognized by the state — amounted to a self-imposed fine. “I never would’ve fined you that much anyway,” Hebert said at one point.

So Artmosphere is in the clear. For now. The venue’s liquor permit is up for renewal before the state in October and Hebert told Kemp he expected her to provide documentation at that time showing that Artmosphere’s food sales remained above 50 percent during the interim.

A few minutes before Hebert issued his ruling, when it was clear to everyone that he would find in favor of Artmosphere, Kemp’s attorney Cade Evans, who took the case pro bono, promised Hebert he would monitor the situation. “I can assure you it’s my intention to stay on top of this — I like the place, I like going to the place. We’re putting in measures to ensure this is not an issue again.”

Read more about the hearing and the music community’s defense of Artmosphere in the March issue of IND Monthly. For more on the issues that led to Wednesday’s hearing, click here.