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Drinking Problem



It's hard to get blood out of concrete. Even if it is fake intergalactic blood. But on a quiet afternoon, a man mops away at a red-tinted patch of floor in front of the empty stage at Toad's Place. Quiet except for the sounds of construction going on in the restaurant, Highwater, and over one of the still-unchristened bars on one side of the main room. The blood is almost a week old, the residue of a GWAR show that brought in 1,000 people, probably one of the biggest home shows for the band. The people at that show, for better or worse, will likely remember all of it, since there was no alcohol to dull the shame of getting hosed by unspeakable fluids.

But as of Aug. 24, Toad's is no longer dry, having finally been granted a temporary liquor license, a probationary arrangement to ensure there are no violations and that Highwater cranks out the proper dollar value of fried okra and jambalaya. Which, if you're planning on starting your own large-scale music venue in the near future, is 60 percent food sales to 40 percent alcohol sales. Toad's needs to have a full-service restaurant selling at least $4,000 worth of food each month. Right now, they've got a temporary certificate that doesn't include the dining area. Getting the full permit means getting the restaurant up to speed and selling enough crab-cake salads in the next 12 months.

After Toad's had been open for two months, people were wondering just what, exactly, was the holdup. Turns out it was the background noise of construction that kept the taps from flowing, along with one other objection: The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said they were waiting for Toad's to finish construction on the restaurant to make it compliant with state requirements.

The license, issued just in time for an Aug. 26 show with George Thorogood, patron saint of drinkers, is a completion of sorts for Jeff Sadler, long-suffering general manager, who said in a Style story in September 2005, "We're still feasible for a Thanksgiving opening. But it's just as likely to be around Christmas. We are still working on the scope of the project, trying to decide just how extravagant we want to get." So it's been a long couple of years for him.

But they did end up getting pretty extravagant, with what Sadler has called the best sound system in Virginia, plus the cameras and digital screens, the lights, the restaurant.

"It's a tough process. I think the key here is that it really is rather an arcane process," Sadler says before heading out to pick up his newly minted license. "I think we got additional scrutiny because of our size and because we're doing things a little differently."

In the ABC report, Sadler says that construction on the restaurant "should be completed" Aug. 27. But he's learned to speak cautiously about timetables. The city will inspect it when workers lay down their drills, approve it for occupancy, and after that, with any luck, there will be no duck without a row.

"I'm not a developer, I'm not an attorney, I'm not a contractor," Sadler says. So he navigates the waters.

"I have always done everything they've asked me to do," he explains of the delays. Sadler says the ABC had presented a few more obstacles than just waiting patiently for construction to be complete. But with the Aug. 24 announcement, the two main objections were resolved. One objection was over the restaurant.

The other, though, was an issue that cropped up after a July 7 benefit. There was a one-night banquet license to serve alcohol, and when an investigator from the ABC came for an inspection July 23 (at Sadler's invitation, he says), she noted the leftover beer and wine and filed a complaint. Sadler acknowledges that he is at fault for not getting the troublemaking alcohol out, but still felt the ABC was dragging its heels to get this resolved.

"Given a half an hour, I could name 50 places [that] are less legitimate than we are," Sadler said before the hearing. If it sounds as though he thought ABC was picking on him, maybe he's justified. He estimates that attendance is down 10 percent to 20 percent from the lack of alcohol sales.

Toad's Place in general has just had a hell of a summer with the alcohol, though. The original Toad's in New Haven, Conn., spent the summer dark, the result of a bust in late 2005 that found 142 underage drinkers in the club. This Toad's, which is in Yale's backyard, agreed to a $90,000 fine and a 90-day closure. It reopened Aug. 4. (This is the same Toad's Place that once confiscated the fake ID of Barbara Bush, the younger one, and kicked her right out. So apparently they recognize underage drinkers when they're related to heads of state.)

Whether the Yankee cousin's illegal mischief had any effect on Virginia ABC's scrutiny is hard to say, but the license is definitely progress. As of the Aug. 17 Sam Bush show, our Toad's was serving food. They should be serving lunch any day now. And maybe, just maybe, they've already served their first three-martini lunch. S

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