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Barroom brawl
City's anti-bar stance angers owners

COVINGTON - There aren't supposed to be any bars in the city of Covington.

But Shirley Spencer, owner of Double G's Sports Bar and Grill on U.S. Highway 278, said she isn't running a restaurant and doesn't really know how.

"I bought my business as a bar. There was no questions asked," Spencer said.

The former site of Fat Boys Sports Bar and Grill, the space now occupied by Double G's, came complete with pool tables and dart boards, she said.

Spencer said she wasn't aware at the time that a city ordinance that has been on the books for 25 years prohibits establishments that serve liquor from having these games and others, including pinball and video game machines and any games not "normally found in family-oriented restaurants."

The games stayed put when Spencer opened, and she said she operated for more than two years without incident.

But about six months ago, an advertisement for a mud wrestling contest at the establishment prompted a visit from a Covington Police officer and a warning about indecent exposure.

While at Double G's, the officer discovered the pool tables and dart boards, according to Police Chief Stacey Cotton.

Spencer was notified that she had to either give up her liquor license or the games.

Since Spencer gets a lot of business from pool and dart board tournaments, she opted to give up the liquor.

Though she still serves beer and wine, Spencer said she's seen a decline in business ever since.

"Once you have your business established and a dramatic change happens, it's hard to build it back," she said.

Now, Spencer wants the city to rewrite the ordinance so she and others like her can have the best of both worlds.

She went before the Covington City Council recently to request a change to the ordinance, but no action was taken. Instead ,the council opted to wait until Cotton submits a revised ordinance to clarify requirements for establishments such as Spencer's.

Cotton told the council there are several such businesses operating as bars within city limits.

Though the establishments are required to turn in forms each month stating that at least 51 percent of sales are from food, there's no way to prove they're telling the truth, Cotton said.

"When you walk in at 7 or 8 o'clock at night and there's two or three beers on the table and no food, I don't know where these receipts are coming from. I just have to say that publicly," he said.

Cotton said there are at least five establishments that appear to be more like bars than restaurants.

"We, on a weekly basis, have problems out of each of these establishments that are acting pretty much as bars. A weekend doesn't go by when we're not making an arrest at one of these places," he said.

Cotton said he wants to "streamline the ordinance to make sure it's clear to everybody what is expected."

It will be up to the mayor and City Council whether to allow bars in the city, he said.

"This is not Stacey Cotton versus bars. I could really care less either way. My job is to enforce the rule of law. The law currently is that we have restaurants, not bars," he said.

Yong Song, owner of The Depot Sports Bar and Grill on Emory Street, said that needs to change.

When Song took over the business in April, there were dart boards and game machines, she said.

After the Double G's incident, police visited other establishments to make sure they were in compliance, according to Cotton.

Song said she was required to give up her games in order to keep her liquor license.

"People come to sports bars because they like to have fun. There's nothing wrong with that," she said. "Times are changing. The citizens pay taxes. They should be able to come here and have fun. For the city ordinance to say, 'Stop doing that,' it's really not fair."

Song said she's been preparing to approach the City Council about changing the ordinance. She also wants an extension on hours for serving alcohol. Currently, the cut off time is 1 a.m., and Song said she's been losing customers to nearby towns that allow later service.

Like Spencer, Song said she was not aware of the current ordinance.

But Cotton said it's the business owner's responsibility to know the law.

"Each one has a copy of the ordinance. It's their job to read it or get an attorney," Cotton said.

Cotton said he will work with the city attorney and the city's building and zoning department on a revised ordinance, which he plans to submit to the council in February.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.