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Superior council rejects new liquor license for former Palace Bar

Jordan Wheat hoped to turn the building into a country western establishment, but councilors weren't convinced the former Palace manager could resolve old problems.

Palace Bar at 1108 Tower Avenue
Palace Bar at 1108 Tower Ave. in Superior on Tuesday, May 17.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Plans to open a country western-themed bar in the former Palace Bar were shot down Tuesday, Dec. 6, by the Superior City Council.

In a 2-7 vote, councilors said no to issuing a liquor license to Jordan Wheat, who planned to operate JJ’s Bar at 1108 Tower Ave.

The Palace Bar closed at the end of June when its liquor license expired. The council had set a public hearing in May to consider nonrenewal of its licenses because of the large volume of police calls to the establishment. Instead of going through a public hearing, Palace Bar owner Brian Noel decided not to renew the license.

Even before councilors began to debate the license application, Mayor Jim Paine said he would oppose issuing the license.

“I feel very strongly that both the evidence and the argument made by the applicant here indicates that there are no real improvements made in the Palace, and regardless of the improvements that will be made, we can still expect many of the same problems,” Paine said.

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When the council set the public hearing in May, Superior Police Department records showed there had been more than 150 calls for service between January 2021 and May 2022. Calls included fights, battery, disturbances, a weapons violation and a shooting that occurred in the bar in the early morning hours of March 18. After the hearing was set, a second incident involving a gun was reported. A man who had been removed from the bar by staff came back and fired a gun into the air behind the building.

Paine said Wheat was the manager of the Palace Bar through most of 2022 and the worst period with the problematic behaviors at the bar.

“There’s no other way to put this: the worst bar in Superior by almost any measure,” Paine said. “There was significant violence, regular fights, the most police calls of any other bar during that time period. We’ve taken serious license action against much less.”

While Wheat presented the council with a business plan and safety plan for operating JJ’s Bar, Paine said the changes proposed were superficial, and the safety plan wouldn’t even be necessary in other establishments.

“I don’t want to have a bar in that area — next to a hotel, next to a bakery, next to other safely operated establishments — that require that level of security,” Paine said. “The only reason to have that level of security is if you expect to have a very loud and potentially dangerous crowd that needs to be managed.”

Wheat said she developed the safety plan with input from Superior Police Chief Nicholas Alexander because she wants to take JJ’s Bar in the exact opposite direction from what the Palace Bar had been.

Paine said he felt strongly that reopening the business would create a danger in the community and vowed to veto the council’s decision if the license were issued.

“I cannot be involved in the license in any meaningful way,” Paine said. “I have an obligation to protect the citizens of Superior and enforce the ordinances.”

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Despite the mayor’s arguments, Councilors Brent Fennessey and Mark Johnson made a motion to approve the license after Wheat advised the council that she had secured a mortgage to purchase the building, contingent on the liquor license being issued.

“I think the one thing that we can all agree on is what we don’t want is an establishment that creates a culture that was created at the Palace,” Fennessey said. However, he said the license before the council isn’t a renewal of the Palace Bar license; it’s a new license by a new owner who wants to change the culture. He suggested reaching an agreement with Wheat that would lay out the city’s expectations for JJ’s Bar to maintain its license.

Fennessey and Johnson subsequently made a motion to refer the license to the next council meeting, which was rejected by Councilors Nick Ledin, Jenny Van Sickle, Jack Sweeney, Tylor Elm, Ruth Ludwig, Mike Herrick and Lindsey Graskey.

“It’s going to take a lot to change the way people think of this place and what it was, and what it was doing,” Graskey said. She said she wasn’t convinced by the application and talking to Wheat that would happen.

“To me, past history usually dictates future behavior — tough to change,” Sweeney said. For that reason, he said he would be voting no to issuing the license.

The councilors who voted against the referral also voted against issuing the license.

Herrick encouraged Wheat to apply again even as he voted 'no.'

Councilors approved a liquor license for Wine Beginnings, 1413 Tower Ave., and a temporary beer license for the Douglas County Historical Society, 1101 John Ave., for its Christmas Musicale on Dec. 15.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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