Alcohol license sparks debate in Oak Bluffs

The Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company will become a year-round operation, with the approval of an annual alcohol license by the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen at their Tuesday meeting.

The usually routine procedure escalated to a heated debate over use of the upstairs event facility at the 9 Oak Bluffs Avenue location. One liquor license, held by building owners Mark and Mike Wallace, covers both the restaurant located on the first floor and the event facility. Chowder Company owner J.B. Blau leases space in the building for the restaurant.

Selectmen Gail Barmakian objected to the license because the second floor does not meet standards for bathrooms and handicap accessibility. A temporary occupancy permit expires December 31, and will not be renewed until the building meets all required federal, state, and local building codes.

“I’m very apprehensive to grant permission to supply liquor for a building that doesn’t comply,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Attorney Sean Murphy, representing the owners, argued that the building code issues do not affect the alcohol license, because the owners cannot use the second floor without approval from the town building inspector, and denial of a license would prevent the restaurant from operating after January 1.

The board granted the permit by a vote of 3 to 1, with one abstention. Ms. Barmakian voted no, and selectman Michael Santoro abstained because he is managing partner of two competing restaurants.

Also Tuesday, selectmen agreed to change an annual alcohol license for Ken ‘N Beck restaurant to a seasonal restaurant. The new eatery plans to close for the winter.

Selectmen appointed Jacqueline Hunt to the council on aging board of directors, and Marie Doubleday to the Oak Bluffs Housing trust board of trustees.