Steel, a new bar on the edge of Old Town that features electronic dance music and fire performers, has temporarily closed because of legal problems.
Officers with the Wichita Police Department and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control cited Steel Bar, 221 N. St. Francis, on Friday for not having a city liquor license.
The bar was cited by Alcoholic Beverage Control, and the bartender working that night was cited by the Wichita Police Department.
Levi King, the bar’s promotions manager, said Steel LLC, under which the bar is listed with the Kansas Department of Revenue, is in the process of receiving its city liquor license but does not have it yet.
He said the bar was not aware it needed a city “drinking establishment” license to serve alcohol – it has a valid state liquor license and a city “entertainment establishment” license. He said when the bar’s owner, Andrea Weidner, went to the city to get the bar licensed, she was told she needed only an “entertainment establishment” license.
According to the Wichita Police Department, an “entertainment establishment” license is not a license to serve alcohol.
King said the bar was visited by police on Sept. 1, the night an Eagle article profiling the bar was published. Two days later, the bar posted on Facebook that it would close until further notice. The posting said the bar was closed because of a water line issue, but King said this week that the bar was closed to resolve the liquor license issue.
The bar reopened for an event on Friday night and was under the impression that its legal issues had been resolved, according to a statement from the bar posted on Facebook.
“We were under the impression from the city that everything had finally been fixed, and that we were good to go, just waiting on the physical copy to be printed off,” Andrea Weidner, Steel’s owner, posted Sunday in a statement on Facebook. “As we thought everything was documented in the city systems, we made the decision to go ahead and reopen (Friday).”
Patrons at the bar Friday night told The Eagle that, at first, two plainclothes officers came into the bar, questioning patrons. About 10 minutes later, “they just started pouring in,” according to one of the Wichita Burners who was fire-spinning on Friday night. Fire-spinning is a type of performance art in which performers spin lit flame throwers and torchlike objects in front of an audience.
The bartender at Steel was cited around midnight by the Wichita Police Department for maintaining or operating an establishment without a proper city license and has an October court date. Neither Weidner nor King was in the building at the time.
Weidner said on Facebook that “we have told (the bartender) that our lawyer will cover anything under the umbrella of the business, and that it will be taken care of through him.”
The bar has been on Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp’s radar since he learned fire-spinners regularly performed at Steel, which is one of the unique things about the bar.
Crisp said he talked with Weidner about fire-spinning at Steel and issued a burn permit to do so on the premises legally – provided certain parameters are met, including maintaining a 20-foot distance between the performer and the public, keeping control of the fuel source, having a handler who could ensure the safety of the performer and the crowd, and having a fire extinguisher on hand.
In the past, he said, he has worked with Phlox, a formalized group of fire performers in Wichita, to identify best practices for fire performance.
“There’s a bit of ambiguity in the city ordinances about fire performances and so were tasked with working with (Phlox) on a way we could get them permitted and be able to do the things that they were doing, so that they weren’t in violation of city ordinance,” Crisp said. “We never approached them in the form of ‘Hey, we’re going to ban this’ – we approached them in the form of ‘We want to work with you to make sure that you’re doing this safely.’ ”
Crisp said he doesn’t have a problem with fire performances at Steel as long as they are done safely.
He said he did have a problem with the wooden stage Steel had erected in its courtyard for the fire performers, saying “it was like two guys got together with some two-by-fours and a nail gun and put a bunch of stuff together.”
“What they had built was dangerous,” he said. “It was very subpar construction.”
By Wednesday, the wooden stage had been taken down, while a sign out front promised a new stage would be built. Everything else had been taken out of the courtyard area.
Steel will remain closed until the legal issues are resolved, King said.