Neighbors protest 'The Friendly Spot'

Popular Southtown ice house waiting to learn fate of alcohol permit renewal

SAN ANTONIO – A popular Southtown ice house is waiting to find out if the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will renew its permit to sell beer and wine.

Neighbors and business owners who live near The Friendly Spot, located in the 900 Block of South Alamo, are protesting the renewal of their permit.

One main complaint from the residents is the level of noise that comes from the bar.

"It was going to be picnic tables and a place for families to come and bring their kids, meet and have a few drinks and talk," said Bennie Blansett who lives right behind The Friendly Spot.

Blansett said the ice house has changed it's business model from what they told the neighbors it would be.

"It's a really nice place. I've taken my grand kids there. It's a great concept. Then someone got the idea to start doing other things," Blansett said. "It's a great friendly spot until about 10 at night."

Blansett and some of his fellow neighbors on Madison Street complain The Friendly Spot is way too loud and disruptive when they show sporting events like Spurs games on a large outdoor screen with speakers.

"If they make the winning shot it's a huge roar that goes all through the neighborhood here at night," Blansett said. "At midnight it just knocks people out of their beds. It's like living next door to a stadium."

In their protest letters to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, some neighbors also complained about a lack of parking, loud motorcycles revving their engines, clanking beer bottles and bar patrons urinating and vomiting on their property.

"They do have some music. They also had a wrestling match, there have been a variety of events," said Rochel Lemler, an attorney representing one of the neighbors. "It's operating in a fashion that is excessively noisy and disturbs the neighbors."

The owners of some bed and breakfast businesses also complain the night time noise has cost them business and bad reviews.

But not everyone agrees the Friendly Spot is a bad neighbor.

"It's very friendly. It's a great place," said Molly Shafer a neighbor who lives on the other side of the fence of the bar. "If they're disturbed by some amount of noise then that's up to them but it doesn't bother us at all."

Shafer and several other nearby residents - and even some local and state elected officials - have come out in support of renewing the alcohol permit.

"I just think it's ridiculous. I think that The Friendly Spot has added so much to the neighborhood," Shafer said. "They've just really helped with the development of the neighborhood."

Steve Newman, one of the owners of the ice house, said he runs his business in compliance with all the state and local laws, adding he goes above and beyond to keep his neighbors happy.

Despite numerous calls to SAPD and the TABC, Newman said they've never been issued a citation or violation.

"The TABC and the police department come out and they find no claims, no faults to us at all. Therefore no citations," Newman said. "They've actually been here on site when the complaints have come in, reading the decibels significantly below the required limits."

In addition to buying his own noise meter to monitor the decibel levels, Newman said he's added sound proofing materials to his property, paid for additional landscaping, and repositioned the screen and sound system in an effort to reduce the noise.

While he could keep the bar open until 2:00 a.m., he's decided to close at midnight and he said he makes sure the sound is turned down early.

"We shut the volume off at 10:00, even though on Fridays and Saturdays we can keep it up all the way to 11:00," Newman said. "So we do make strides like that to make promises to our neighbors and keep them."

Newman said The Friendly Spot has been and continues to be a family friendly business where kids are welcome to play on a playground while their parents have a drink and socialize. He said a high volume of his customers come from within a 1/2 mile of the ice house.

Newman said if the judge decides not to renew his permit, it could send a bad message to business owners and potentially have a negative impact on the growth of the area.

"I think it would devastate business in this area," Newman said. "I think you would tell basically every business owner that this would not be an area that you would want to come to. Don't invest your money in this area because the neighborhood could shut you down on a whim."

After listening to two days of testimony from both sides, the decision now rests on the hands of Justice of the Peace Bill Donovan. He has 30 days to make a ruling.

About the Author:

Tim Gerber is an investigative reporter and anchor on the KSAT Defenders team.