The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve a liquor license for a new Five Points South restaurant, Social, despite concerns from neighborhood residents and some councilors that the owners intend for the business to be a nightclub, instead.
Social will occupy the space previously held by Skky Lounge, a nightclub shut down by the council in 2017 after multiple shootings. The restaurant will be operated by Jeremy Williams, whose J Wings restaurant has six locations in the city, including at the Birmingham CrossPlex and the Pizitz Food Hall. Williams told councilors that the restaurant would serve “high-end” fare such as lamb chops, steak and lobster pasta, and he said he had built a “state-of-the-art kitchen” in the building’s lower level.
But several neighborhood residents expressed skepticism over the proposal and fear that Social would quickly become another Skky. Five Points South Neighborhood President Sheila Chaffin told councilors that Williams had twice failed to appear at a neighborhood meeting despite promising to come, leading the neighborhood to twice vote down the liquor license request.
Gary Bostany, a past president of the Five Points South neighborhood association, said Williams’ proposal raised “major red flags,” adding that he suspected that Social is “not going to make it as a restaurant, and they’re going to turn it into a lounge.”
District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott said she was afraid of what would happen to the area if the license was approved. “I don’t want to see any more bodies on the street or people being pulled out of the clubs in a prone position,” she said. “It frightens me, because Five Points South has always been an entertainment district. But if the public is afraid to go there… It concerns me a great deal.”
District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams, no relation, noted that business previously had been proposed to the council as a nightclub and questioned Jeremy Williams’ attorney, Dan Crane, at length over the number of tables and chairs it would have or whether patrons would be allowed to dance. Crane maintained that the space would be used only as a restaurant.
District 1 Councilor Clinton Woods expressed discomfort with the tenor of the conversation. “I think there were a lot of things loosely thrown around about what might be, (but) nothing tangible,” he said. “I’m uncomfortable with some of those types of conversations and some of the things that were said … I don’t know that we can hold this business owner accountable for something that previous business owners have done. I don’t think the building is jinxed, or anything like that.”
The council voted 7-2 to approve the license.