State issues temp liquor license to Downtown ‘mega bar’

by Walter Pierce

Attorney for the building's owners: “It’s not going to be the same club as Karma."

The former Karma building, which unsuccessfully tried to reopen as The Plaza Downtown in 2015, at 314 Jefferson St.

The commissioner of the state office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control on Tuesday extended for 35 days a temporary liquor license to 314 Jefferson St., site of the former Karma Nightclub & Lounge that was shuttered at the end of 2014 following years of acrimony with consolidated government and Downtown stakeholders.

Several of those stakeholders, including representatives of the Downtown Development Authority and Downtown residents, applied for the hearing in Baton Rouge to oppose issuance of the license after learning late last year that a new bar intended to open in the location. But Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard, after hearing from just three of those stakeholders, ruled that their objections over capacity was a local, not a state, issue. Moreover, Marine-Lombard ruled, the new operator of the bar, which opened Dec. 31 in order to comply with terms of the moratorium on liquor licenses in Lafayette, should not be punished for the transgressions of the previous operators.

“If you had filed objections based on all these local issues, I probably would not have granted this hearing,” the commissioner told Winston Decuir, the Baton Rouge attorney representing those opposed to another bar opening up in the location.

Marine-Lombard did agree that because the owners of the building do not own the adjacent parking lot on which is built a stairwell that accesses the third floor, the third floor cannot be utilized as part of the bar operation. That knocks the capacity of the building down from 1,400 to about 930 — still far too many revelers for most Downtown stakeholders’ comfort.

The attorney for the operator of the fledgling new bar at the address, Delta Grand II, insists he’s running a clean operation.

“It’s not going to be the same club as Karma,” said attorney Glenn Soileau after the hearing. “This guy doesn’t run a business like that.”

Robert Caillier
Photo by Robin May

“This guy” is Robert Caillier, an Opelousas businessman who has operated dozens of bars over the last 25 years. Last November Caillier formed a limited liability company, Delta Grand II LLC, to open up shop in the old Karma building. The opening followed months of the behind-the-scenes squabbling between the owners of the building — Andy Monceaux, Eric Cloutier and Stacy Singleton — and the city over the city-issued liquor license at the address. (The council-passed moratorium on new bars Downtown also stipulates that if an address holding a liquor license doesn’t operate as a bar for a year, the building’s liquor license is voided. Last summer the city informed the owners that they were in violation of the moratorium, but later in November decided that the building had complied and gave the owners until Dec. 31 of last year to open a new bar in the building. Delta Grand II opened on New Year’s Eve to little fanfare — but the opening did put it right with the terms of the moratorium. The bar has opened each Saturday night since, pulling in about 100 customers — far fewer than what it will need to profitably operate. Building co-owner Cloutier, who flew into Louisiana from his home in California for the hearing, said after the hearing that Delta Grand will flip on the “open” sign on Fridays beginning this weekend.)

Those who opposed issuance of the license said after the hearing that they are upset with the commissioner’s ruling, but still hope to rally support with consolidated government, specifically the fire marshal’s office, to at least chip away at the maximum capacity for the bar, if not convince the city that terms of the moratorium had in fact been violated. But at this rate it appears inevitable that a bar with a capacity of at least several hundred will once again pulsate on weekend nights in Downtown Lafayette.

“I think the fact that there is a temporary license gives us a chance to investigate the situation and make our voices be known,” said Julie Calzone, an advertising executive who lives Downtown. “If we have 35 days to really make our voices be heard back in the local community, I think that is a good thing. I think all of the issues that we all talked about with mega clubs still exist.”