Caffe Mediterraneum applies for beer and wine license

Derek Remsburg/Staff
Caffe Mediterraneum owner Craig Becker recently applied for a license to serve beer and wine.

As the push to reinvigorate the late-night atmosphere of the Telegraph Avenue commercial district continues, Caffe Mediterraneum owner Craig Becker — who obtained a permit this summer to keep his establishment open 24 hours a day — recently applied for another license to serve beer and wine.

When the city of Berkeley’s Planning Commission reviewed the Telegraph Business Improvement District’s proposal in March to extend operation hours for businesses, its members expressed concern about allowing alcohol-serving establishments to stay open past midnight. Now, Becker has applied for a permit for his restaurant to allow for beer and wine sales, shortly after receiving approval for 24-hour operation on June 7.

“Many restaurants sell beer and wine, and it’s not really the source of alcohol problems — usually it’s alcohol sold (at) the markets,” Becker said.

Becker said an evaluation of the cafe’s sales prompted him to apply for the permit June 27 to include beer and wine on the dinner menu.

According to Michael Caplan, the city’s economic development manager, restaurants that do not serve alcohol are at a disadvantage because most dining establishments in the city do sell alcohol.

“To have the option to have beer and wine is pretty much essential,” Caplan added. “We have one restaurant for every 300 people in Berkeley. It’s a very competitive business.”

The current closing hours for establishments that serve alcohol is 12 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Planning Commission’s major concern is that if alcohol-serving businesses are allowed to stay open until 3 a.m. for the purpose of “soft closings” — one of the recommendations made by the Telegraph business district in its 24/7 proposal — they may not keep their kitchens open to serve food during that time.

Becker said that if he fully utilizes the cafe’s 24-hour permit, he will continue to sell food after 2 a.m.

According to Roland Peterson, executive director for the district, soft closings are designed to help alleviate the rush caused by people hitting the streets at 2 a.m. all at once.

“Wouldn’t it be better to let them go in the course of the hour or an hour and a half? But it’s up to the Planning Commission to make that determination,” Caplan said.

Vincent Casalaina, former president and current member of the Willard Neighborhood Association, said a trial period for the 24/7 proposal would be a reasonable approach to measure its success or failure.

“Many people are concerned about the connection of crime and noise that comes from alcohol, and there is always additional consideration about that,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district includes the cafe. “I think in general, the changes to allow people to open later makes sense in that neighborhood. Most neighborhoods in Berkeley do not want that, and Telegraph is a unique place where students like the convenience of late-night businesses.”

Pam Johnson, an assistant planner for the city, said the permitting process for the beer and wine license will take about three months after the submission of the application. She added that due to recent changes in the zoning ordinance, there is no longer any need for a public hearing in order to obtain a liquor license.

Karinina Cruz covers city government.