Despite mayor’s opposition, alders approve downtown Taco Bell alcohol license

The Madison Common Council voted Tuesday night to approve an alcohol license for a Taco Bell location on State Street, despite opposition from Mayor Paul Soglin.

The Taco Bell Cantina would serve beer and wine alongside the chain restaurant’s full menu. The city’s Alcohol License Review Committee recommended approval of the license in November.

Soglin sent alders an email Tuesday urging them to vote against the proposal, stating the proposal would bring “little public value” and a “great number of problems” to the city.

“(T)he violence at downtown locations associated with liquor is only growing – growing in terms of frequency, in terms of location, and in terms of severity,” Soglin’s email read in part. “We have more than enough liquor outlets in our city. We see more and more entertainment dollars, once spent at locally owned establishments, leaving the state.”

Soglin said adding alcohol to Taco Bell is “just the beginning” of a trend of more fast food restaurants bringing alcohol to the city, calling the license “not necessary.”

“If we are concerned about public safety, if we are concerned about mounting law enforcement costs, issuing a license that brings no public value, but great public liability does not make sense,” he said.

District 9 Alder Paul Skidmore echoed those sentiments in voting against the proposal.

“We have a fire burning down there and you don’t try to put the fire out by putting more gas on it,” Skidmore said. “More opportunities to buy alcohol is not going to help the problem.”

The company, Flynn Restaurant Group LLC, agreed to restrictions on the license, including serving only beer and wine and not hard liquor, closing at 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends and operating primarily as a restaurant.

Pat Eulberg, the company’s vice president of real estate, said the comapny plans to take multiple safety measures, including security cameras, ID scanners and training for staff.

“Between the cameras, between the training, between the ID scanners, also limiting the hours of operation serves to help us with security,” Eulberg said. “Also, our company has a very deep experience with responsible service of alcohol.”

A Madison resident spoke in front of the council in support of the alcohol license, saying the proposal would be an attraction to downtown, owing to the Taco Bell Cantina concept’s limited rollout to select locations and social media buzz created by the concept.

The Common Council voted to approve the license on a voice vote, with Skidmore and at least one other alder opposed. Soglin has the ability to veto the council’s vote.