Andrew Somo, the owner of A-1 Hookah Bar in Spring Valley, is trading in his liquor license for a beer license because he wants a nicer clientele. But to do that, he has had to pitch his plan to the San Diego County Planning Commission; undergo a review as if he were pursuing a new license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control; and be reinspected by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
"We want to go from hard liquor to just beer," Somo said. "This is a quiet and friendly establishment, and we'd like to focus on having a regular clientele like a coffee shop, where you can have a beer, instead of having a crazy drunk crowd on weekends…. People show up already drunk and you have to deal with them. I like a nice, well-behaved clientele where our customers can have a nice times, stay for a while, and don't have to deal with people I don't want to deal with either."
John Carr, spokesman for the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said they don't keep records on how frequently establishments surrender broad licenses for more limited ones.
"We have 83 types of licenses," he said. "I couldn't get that information without intensive study."
Going from serving hard liquor to beer lowers the entry age requirement from 21 to 18, Somo said.
On August 4, Somo presented his plans to a mostly receptive Casa De Oro Planning Group, which voted to support his proposal — one more step in his bid to reduce the scope of alcohol he can serve.
His establishment, on Campo Road, is a two-level affair, with roomy booths of leather couches and marble-top tables. Because of a high-grade ventilation system, the air smells clean with a just tinge of orange-tobacco aroma. On a recent weeknight, college students worked on laptops in two of the sitting areas while a couple chatted quietly in a third.
"If you don't like hookah, you can have a coffee or a beer or play pool," Somo said. "We want the younger crowd that hangs out with their friends and does their school work — you end up with better people and a nicer crowd."
In the mysteries of requirements for reducing the scope of the liquor license came a strange ABC requirement: a full-sized pool table on the upper level that is okay when Somo serves martinis has to be removed to get the beer license.
"It's a nice table and people have fun when they play," Somo said. "But if they say it has to go, we'll remove it."
Somo said he believes revenue will go down in the coming year as a result of the change, but, he says, “It's going to build my business for the future and help me keep the people I want to serve."