Franklin County

Change in the law could take bars to a new level

FRANKFORT — Since the 1940s, when police in Kentucky cities walked the beats, a state law has required licensed bars and their entrances to be at street level.

State legislators this year are being asked to change the law, a move that would clear the way for an "upscale lounge" on the ninth floor of a building in downtown Lexington and clarify the legal status of dozens of other bars across the state.

"I definitely would be interested in seeing the law changed," said Vince Carlucci, who plans to open a martini lounge called Skybar-Lexington on the penthouse floor of a building at 269 West Main.

Still, the proposal's fate in this year's General Assembly remains murky as lawmakers return to Frankfort on Thursday and Friday for two final work days.

Carlucci said he has made a "considerable" investment in Skybar, but declined to say how much. An ad for Skybar said it will be contemporary "for today's multigenerational crowd" and will offer "premium libation, à la carte or by the bottle," reserved VIP transportation and private suites.

"We're very excited about this new venue. It's a great idea. It could add a lot to the night life in downtown Lexington and provide great views of the city," said Renee Jackson, president of the Downtown Lexington Corp., a group that promotes downtown businesses.

Carlucci said he has "some other options" for Skybar if the law is not changed.

One possibility, he said, is to make it a restaurant that under the law could sell alcoholic beverages as long as it seats more than 50 people and gets more than 50 percent of its proceeds from food sales.

"But my preference is to make it a lounge," he said.

Carlucci has operated several bars and restaurants over the years, including Solid Platinum, an adult-entertainment business in Lexington that he sold last year.

Carlucci said he has no plans to open another adult business, noting that zoning regulations would prohibit such a business in downtown and that he signed a no-compete agreement with Solid Platinum's current owners.

Gene McLean, president of McLean Communications in Midway and a lobbyist for the Kentucky Beer Wholesalers Association, said Carlucci and several other people brought to his attention "the need to change old and outdated language" in the state law about which retail businesses could sell alcoholic beverages.

McLean said the change in the law would affect other bars in the state that are not in compliance with the current "outdated" law and have to get their licenses renewed each year.

"There are dozens of facilities in the state that have their premises and/or entrances not on street level and they are interested in getting the law changed to be sure they are in compliance," he said, mentioning businesses at Newport on the Levee in Northern Kentucky and Phoenix Hill Tavern in Louisville.

State Sen. Gary Tapp, R-Shelbyville, introduced the proposal on March 13 as an amendment to House Bill 473, a measure that would reorganize the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet.

"We're just trying to clean up an old statute," said Tapp, chairman of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee. His committee amendment dealing with bars also included a provision to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages at the convention center in Corbin.

The panel approved the amendment, as did the full Senate. The House will decide what to do with the measure when lawmakers return Thursday.

To consider the bill, House Democrats must first agree to change their rules so that they can consider legislation. New House rules implemented this year allow the chamber only to consider any vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear in the final two days of the session.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said that could change if the House Democratic caucus suspends its rules.