King County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Rod Simmons cut to the chase after sitting patiently through protracted opening statements and early testimony. At a Monday, June 26, hearing, the issue was whether historic Ballard Avenue pub Conor Byrne stood in violation of its lease with landlords Kathy and John Casey. "Whatever 'tavern/restaurant' means is kind of at the heart of the matter here," said Simmons. "Raising all these other points isn't particularly germane or helpful."
This didn't stop the two attorneys present, Evan Loeffler for the Caseys and Brian Posewitz for Conor Byrne owner Kathleen Kinder, from highly technical bloviation for another hour or so. But the judge's early admonishment proved prescient in his narrow interpretation that Kinder's acquisition of a state hard-liquor license without approval from the celebrity chef and her husband is not grounds for eviction.
"The question in this case is pretty straightforward," said Simmons. "They are operating a restaurant, and according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, they're in compliance. This lease has no prohibition against doing that."
Simmons then added an interesting footnote.
"Had [the lease] read 'tavern-restaurant' without a slash," said Simmons, "I might have seen things differently."
In effect, Simmons ruled that while there are restaurants that are taverns and restaurants that are bars, the all-important slash mark was tantamount to printing the word "or," thus making Conor Byrne's mid-March debut of hard alcohol perfectly permissible under the original lease, which was drawn up prior to the Caseys' stewardship of the building in which the pub resides.
"Obviously, we don't agree with the decision," says Loeffler, the Caseys' attorney. "We feel it was appropriate to bring the action, and we're considering filing a motion to review."
Also in the lease is a provision that grants the tenant two five-year renewal options, the first of which Kinder intends to exercise when her lease expires at the end of July. The Caseys, who operate Kathy Casey Food Studios two doors down and are set to open a Dish D'Lish franchise next door, are thought to covet the 100-year-old pub's space for their own use (see "A Case of Caseys," May 24). Both before and after purchasing the building from prominent developer Ken Alhadeff's family in 2003, the Caseys lodged a series of noise complaints with local authorities, refused to grant Kinder permission to construct a kitchen, and forced her to get a permit from the fire department to have table candles.
"I'm happy," says Kinder. "Based on my past experience with them, I just know that it's unlikely that this is the end of it. But the first battle, I guess we win."
Counters John Casey, who testified at the June 26 hearing and is responsible for day-to-day management of the couple's real-estate holdings: "I have a responsibility as a landlord to approach and address situations appropriately, and that's what I did. Kathy has been instrumental in terms of what's happened down on Ballard Avenue. Kathy and I came from absolutely nothing and have worked very hard. It's not like we're the evil landlord out to rule the world. We're full supporters of small business."