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Commission OKs new bistros in Birmingham

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 18, 2012

BIRMINGHAM — It wasn’t without some hitches, but by the end of the Birmingham City Commission meeting Jan. 9, site plans had been approved for two new bistros in the city.

The approved eateries are part of the city’s Bistro ordinance, which allows for only two licenses to be issued each year. These bistros, according to the ordinance, are granted a liquor license, but must be food-focused, with capabilities for outdoor dining, 65 seats indoors and only 10 seats at the bar. The approved bistros, Market and Social, were the two selected to move forward out of five applicants in October.

The reason for the specialty license is so that new businesses can obtain a full liquor license at a substantially discounted cost, according to chef Zack Sklar, founder of Cutting Edge Cuisine and owner of Social. Sklar said that in return for the discount, the commission can impose certain requirements on the new venue, as he found out during the meeting when the commission nearly scrapped the project over the name, originally Social Kitchen and Bar.

Sklar was quick to tell the commission that he would change the name to simply Social if it meant the project could go forward. They agreed and approved Sklar’s plans.

“I want to support the intent of the bistro ordinance — to encourage small, unique restaurants where patrons could also get a glass of wine or a drink — rather than identifying them as ‘bars,’ where alcohol service is primary,” said Commissioner Rackeline Hoff. She and Mayor Pro Tem George Dilgard vowed during the meeting not to support the measure as long as “bar” remained in the restaurant’s name.

“They left me with no options. What the city doesn’t understand is how much time and effort was put in just to get to this point,” said Sklar, disappointed about the concession. “But at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with my image or who we are or the overall experience our guests are going to have. That’s all I care about, is my guests.”

“We have asked other establishments applying for bistro licenses not to use the word ‘bar,’ and they’ve complied. I thought we should be consistent. In my opinion, Social’s unique food concept and attractive design will contribute to its success whether or not ‘bar’ is in its name,” Hoff said in an email.

Social would feature a tapas-style menu that will be, according to Sklar, “labor-intensive, fun and over-the-top.” He also says that between the indoor seating, outdoor dining areas and rooftop deck, Social will be the largest bistro in Birmingham.

Also getting approval at the meeting was Market, a Mediterranean-style restaurant to go on the corner of North Old Woodward and Ravine. Owners Joe and Kristen Bongiovianni also founded the nearby Luxe Bar and Grille, as well as the Salvatore Scallopini restaurants around metro Detroit.