Abner's exits Hilliard's DORA after live-music disagreement

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
Abner's Casual Dining, 4051 Main St., was removed from the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area by Hilliard City Council on June 22. Abner's owner Gordon Milligan said it was because of a disagreement over live music during DORA hours.

Hilliard’s Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, which is in effect Wednesdays through Saturdays until Aug. 15 in Old Hilliard, has one fewer participating restaurant.

Abner’s Casual Dining, 4051 Main St., was removed from the DORA by Hilliard City Council on June 22.

Its removal does not change the hours, days or boundaries of the DORA. However, patrons of Abner’s no longer will be permitted to leave the restaurant with an open container of alcohol.

Established in 2017 in accordance with Ohio law, DORAs are districts created by Ohio municipalities that allow people to possess open containers of alcohol in public places at designated times.

At the end of last year, Hilliard’s DORA included seven venues: Abner’s Casual Dining, 4051 Main St.; Otie’s Tavern & Grill, 5344 Center St.; Sports on Tap, 4030 Main St.; the Old Bag of Nails Pub, 4065 Main St.; Local Cantina, 3975 Main St.; Starliner Diner, 4121 Main St.; and Legacy Smokehouse, 3987 Main St.

City Manager Michelle Crandall said Abner’s owner Gordon Milligan asked to be removed from the DORA, but Milligan said he did not consider it a request.

Rather, Milligan said, city officials chose to remove him because he wanted to continue offering live music on the restaurant’s patio.

On May 26, in an effort to bolster business in Old Hilliard during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the city expanded the DORA’s days, hours and boundaries and closed a section of Center Street for the placement of tables for outdoor dining.

However, the city suspended the live music at Hilliard’s Station Park and elsewhere within the DORA to prevent large crowds from gathering, said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard.

After restaurants were permitted to reopen for outdoor dining May 15, Milligan said, he wanted to resume having a guitarist perform on Thursdays and Saturdays at Abner’s.

“We are back open, and I have shown I can have live music and still have the proper (social-distancing) restrictions,” Milligan said.

But Ball said the city is not quite ready to resume live music in the DORA.

“The city values its relationships with local business owners,” Ball said “From the beginning, we wanted to ensure the DORA expansion was set up to have the best chance of success for the benefit of the Old Hilliard businesses and community. That meant having a measured approach that did not initially include live entertainment.”

But without the restrictions of the DORA, a business like Abner’s is privately owned and would not be subject to the prohibition, according to Ball.

Milligan said he had waited long enough.

“(The city) said give us two or three more weeks, (but) it’s already been six (since restaurants were allowed to have outdoor seating),” Milligan said June 25.

The removal of Abner’s from the DORA “was not the city’s idea or preference,” and Crandall had suggested for Milligan to “hold off on his request for two to three weeks to give us the opportunity to assess how the expanded DORA was working,” Ball said.

Milligan said he would have preferred to remain in the DORA but that “I need to do what I need” to keep the restaurant open.

“I’m glad (the city) wants to help,” Milligan said, alluding to the expansion of the DORA and the placement of tables on Center Street and tables on the sidewalk outside the Old Bag of Nails Pub at the corner of Main and Norwich streets.

But those amenities do not directly benefit him because he has a patio and his restaurant is in the middle of the block between Norwich and Center streets, Milligan said.

He said he has never seen any of his patrons take a beer from the patio at Abner’s during the DORA hours.

Milligan also questioned whether a DJ is considered live music, as other venues within the DORA have used a DJ, he said.

Ball said a DJ does fall under the current restrictions.

“The city considers (a DJ) to be a form of live entertainment, just as we would a live musical performance,” he said. “As such, we would enforce it in the same manner we would a musician.”

Such enforcement could include a suspension from the DORA, Ball said, but “the city values its partnerships with local businesses and would prefer to not have to take such action.”

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo