New bar awaits high-stakes decision on alcohol license from City Council
“I know this is the worst time to be asking for this,” Robert Rasner said, his voice crackling over a cell phone lying on the newly finished black-walnut bar dominating the interior of what he hopes is the soon-to-be-opened Winchester Goose, a craft-beer bar on the corner of Eighth and Broadway streets, south of downtown Chico.
Rasner, the bar’s proprietor, was referring to his scheduled appearance before the City Council next Tuesday (July 2), when the panel will deliver a make-or-break decision on whether his business meets a “public necessity and convenience” requirement to obtain a liquor license.
Rasner was in Sacramento meeting with brewers, and the phone belonged to Steven Hall, Rasner’s friend and self-described “facilitator,” who has been helping him get the pub off the ground since November. Though they know it won’t be an easy sell as the city grapples with a “drinking culture” blamed for the spate of alcohol-related deaths of Chico State University students last year, they say the proposed establishment can be part of an answer to Chico’s alcohol woes, rather than worsening the problem.
“The drinking scene is out of control in Chico,” Rasner acknowledged. “Kids come up here to party and get wasted, and they overdo it. I understand wanting to curtail and minimalize that, but the problem we’re having is that we’re being placed in a group we don’t belong in.
“Yes, we sell alcohol, but that’s really the only similarity between us and a lot of the downtown bars,” he continued.
Rasner said he doesn’t want to run a “noisy party place” with cheap drink specials to attract 21-year-old college students, but rather offer a more laid-back atmosphere for year-round residents and a slightly older crowd to enjoy quality craft beers and wine safely and responsibly. He intends to serve food and close the bar at 11 p.m.
“We’re trying our hardest to facilitate a new phase of responsible drinking in Chico, and I’m convinced we can do it,” he said. “People in Chico need more options.”
Rasner’s conviction is partly based on formerly owning The Feisty Goat Pub in Carson City, Nev., an establishment he said was also out of the norm for its environs; it was Northern Nevada’s first craft-beer bar, and—contrary to most of the state’s drinking establishments—didn’t allow smoking or gaming. Before his stint in Nevada, he and his ex-wife lived in Chico and opened Pizza Guys in 1999.
Rasner returned to Chico last September, and started considering opening a bar in the historic building—built in 1874, and home to Chico’s first brewery—as the previous tenant, Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House, was closing. He enlisted Hall’s help, and the pair said they did everything they could to ensure the business was viable before committing to a three-year, $60,000 lease in late November.
“He [Rasner] wasn’t going to sign a lease if he wasn’t going to be able to open the bar,” Hall said, explaining that they met with the City Planning Department and Chico police Sgt. Rob Merrifield—who signed off on the project—before committing to rent the space.
Rasner then submitted the necessary paperwork to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s (ABC) district offices in Redding and posted the requisite 30-day notice of change of ownership for the liquor license—which went uncontested—in January.
Hall said ABC officials assured them they were on track to open as early as May, but they weren’t informed of the City Council requirement until the beginning of June. However, Sgt. George Laver, who oversees alcohol licensing for the Chico Police Department, said an ABC employee told him they were informed about it back in January.
Rasner said that, at a June 3 meeting with Laver and Trostle, the chief was initially hesitant to give his blessing, but called later that day to say he would submit a positive recommendation to the City Council. On Wednesday (June 26), Laver confirmed this account of the meeting, but said the chief’s report to the council will not agree that the bar fulfills a public necessity and convenience. He said it will acknowledge that they began the process—based on a go-ahead from the city—in November.
Rasner said the bar’s delayed opening is causing financial difficulties, but nothing compared to what will happen if the council votes no, as it did recently (6-1, with Councilman Sean Morgan dissenting) on a license for Charanjiv Singh, owner of Mangrove Mini Mart at the corner of Fifth and Mangrove avenues (see “No beer, no business,” Newslines, May 30). Laver noted Trostle’s recommendation regarding the Winchester Goose is in keeping with the Mangrove Mini Mart decision.
“[A denial] will literally ruin me financially,” said Rasner, who has invested about $125,000 thus far, including the lease. “That’s not what it’s all about, but it’s a side-effect. I think this is just something that Chico could really use right now.”
“Dollars don’t account for all the blood, sweat and tears we’ve put into this,” Hall added, noting that a number of friends have spent months helping develop the bar’s interior.
If the business gets the nod from the council, Rasner said he hopes to open in mid-July.