They now thank Mayor Shirley Franklin for ending six months of licensing limbo, but Uptown Comedy Corner's owners learned the hard way that opening a comedy club in Atlanta is sometimes no laughing matter.
Actually, make that reopening. Fans of stand-up will remember Uptown as the city's top black comedy club for most of the '90s at its previous location on Peachtree Road in Buckhead, where it hosted such comic stars as D.L. Hughley, Mo'Nique and Mike Epps. It closed in 2003, and last year original owner Gary Abdo decided to resurrect the club in a larger space on Marietta Street near Georgia Tech -- but his choice of sites opened up a legal can of worms.
In December, Abdo went into a liquor-license hearing, confident that he could open by New Year's Eve. As the city's License Review Board prepared to give its thumbs-up, a board member recalled that the space's previous occupant, a notorious party bar ironically called the Library, had its license revoked a month earlier for serving minors. Since city law allows no new licenses at offending locations for at least a year, Uptown was turned down.
"We were being penalized for something that had nothing to do with us," says Uptown manager Valarie Farrow.
But Hakim Hilliard, the lawyer for Uptown, says his research revealed that the Library had served liquor for most of 2005 without a license, meaning it had no license to revoke. A letter to the mayor's office won a reconsideration hearing in March, but the LRB stuck by its earlier decision to recommend denial for Uptown. By law, Franklin has 90 days to make the final call.
Abdo finally opened the club without alcohol May 4, and planned to sue the city if the license wasn't granted. And Uptown supporters deluged the mayor with petitions urging her to give the club a license.
"People called and sent e-mails in support of the club, more than we usually receive" for a license applicant, says Joe Morris III, Franklin's deputy chief of staff.
On June 8, the very last day she had to decide, the mayor approved Uptown's license, a rare reversal of an LRB recommendation. Soon after, the club marquee was changed to read, "Thank you Mayor Franklin."
Hilliard believes the move was more a decision by the city's legal department than a sympathetic intervention by the mayor. He thinks the club suffered through the ordeal because city officials were reluctant to acknowledge that the Library had been allowed to serve liquor for months without a valid license. "The city didn't want to admit its mistake," he says.
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