Suffolk pub owners want after-midnight entertainment, mayor says town isn’t ready yet

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Suffolk bar and restaurant owners say if downtown is going to be a success, they need to be able to have live entertainment until 2 a.m.

Currently, those authorized to host live entertainment with a conditional use permit (CUP) in the city center must stop performing at 11pm Sunday – Thursday and midnight Friday – Saturday, according to Kevin Wyne , interim director of Community Planning and Development.

Rennee Townsand, who along with her husband owns Rennee’s Restaurant and Lounge along W. Washington Street, said that currently puts her at a disadvantage when compared to the rest of Hampton Roads.

Mayor Mike Duman said he understands that, but after recent late-night incidents in the region, he doesn’t think the city is ready to make the change.

Townsand opened her restaurant in February 2022. She is allowed to serve food and alcohol until 2 a.m. under her Liquor Control license. However, she said her customers are not too interested as the DJ fills the packages.

“If the DJ leaves at 12 midnight. The crowd leaves at 12 midnight,” Townsend said. “We’re in competition with Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach. People don’t mind driving to other cities. They stay open for 2, their money goes there until 2.”

She is not alone in her thinking. The owners of High Tide on Commerce St. recently went before the Suffolk City Council with a similar request.

“We would really like to be able to play music until our ABC license allows us to sell alcohol,” said Katy Tew, one of High Tide’s co-owners.

Both restaurants applied for CUP after the city found them hosting live entertainment after midnight without a permit.

Townsand believes the restrictions will ultimately stifle any vibrancy he hopes to achieve downtown.

The regeneration of Suffolk town center has been a priority for the City Council.

While many of the century-old buildings are currently vacant, the recently approved Capital Improvement Plan for the city invests millions of dollars in the downtown in the form of a new festival park, library and demolition of dilapidated structures.

“We want to become … a destination,” Duman said. “And in order to do that, we’re going to have to have that nightlife aspect of our city, just like a lot of other cities. But we have to be diligent about what we’re doing, we have to make sure we don’t do it prematurely.”

Duman said March 2022 quintuple shooting in the heart of Norfolk’s downtown entertainment district, he’s reluctant to rush into anything.

“I was absolutely given a break,” Duman said.

Some downtown Norfolk residents, as well as Councilwoman Courtney Doyle, are currently pushing for the city to change all downtown CUPs so that the closing time is midnight.

“I continue to advocate for that,” Doyle said Thursday. She has previously said that she believes in the saying “nothing good happens after midnight”.

Doyle continues to walk downtown on weekend nights to see how recent improvements made by the city have affected the environment.

Duman said he is watching Norfolk closely because he thinks it can serve as a model for Suffolk.

“We have to make sure we have proper code enforcement, we have to have lights, we have to have cameras, we have to have a police presence,” Duman said. “I’ve already talked to the city manager about getting some cameras exactly like Norfolk that we can put in strategic locations along Washington Street.”

Duman doesn’t have a timeline for allowing 2 a.m. entertainment, but assured Townsand and Tew that won’t happen unless the rules currently in place are followed.

“I want everyone to succeed,” Duman said. “These CUPs will be under a microscope.”

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