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Brainerd City Council: John's Tavern potential owner seeks changes in liquor zoning

A family owned establishment and neighborhood site for 38 years, John’s Tavern is looking to make a change as potential owners Steven Biwer and his fiancee Julie Engle hope to obtain permission for a full liquor license from the city before proceeding with the purchase.

Currently zoned as a Neighborhood Commercial, the Tavern located at 1107 Oak St. has a current license that only allows on- and off-sale of 3.2 liquor including Sunday sales, along with licenses to sell cigarettes and limited food such as pizza and snacks.

“Right now as the bar sits, it is not financially viable without a potential liquor license,” Engle told the city council Monday night. “We could conceivable serve more food but under current management, they’re not breaking even and it’s a risk we (Engle and Biwer) are unsure of investing in as it currently sits.”

Brainerd City Administrator Dan Vogt said a ratio sale of 51 percent food sales and 49 percent alcohol sales could be an option but ultimately it was up to how the neighborhood felt about it.

Like Vogt, City Council President Mary Koep worried about the effects a full liquor license may bring to the family-endeared neighborhood.

“Right now it is a fixture in the neighborhood,” Koep said. “Adding a liquor license would certainly change the character and that makes me curious as to what exactly their reaction would be.

“From what I am hearing, it sounds like it will be just another bar and could lose that family atmosphere that it currently holds.”

Koep suggested to Engle to approach the neighborhood with a plan, working closely with city administration and approach the council again later down the road.

Koep’s sentiments were echoed by council members Bob Olson and Bonnie Cumberland, both whom agreed that a decision on approving the rezoning could not be made without a better plan brought before the council.

JESSI PIERCE may be reached at 855-5858 or by email at Follow her on Twitter @jessi_pierce