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Petaluma brewpub looking to move

Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 5:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 5:07 p.m.

Taps, a popular Petaluma brewpub, is looking for new digs after major equipment problems at its Kentucky Street location, a historic structure built in the 1920s.

Owner Eric Lafranchi said the aging venting system for the pub's stove became overloaded after a busy lunch last week, forcing the county Health Department to shut down hot food service. The pub is still able to serve cold food and salads, but not cooked items like chicken wings, burgers and fries, he said.

In its four years inside the first floor of the Hotel Petaluma, Taps has become a busy local watering hole and community gathering place. It serves 35 beers from around the world on tap and frequently hosts special events for unusual brews and small breweries.

But the kitchen's aging infrastructure and ongoing disputes with a new landlord have been frustrating, Lafranchi said.

Last year, the building that houses Taps was bought by a Marin County property owner who began making changes to the insides and facade of the 1923 building at Washington and Kentucky streets.

New owner Terry Andrews is converting the former flophouse and inexpensive single-room rental units back to the building's original use as a traditional hotel.

About 100 tenants, some who'd lived there for years, were forced to move, which sparked protests by Occupy Petaluma activists to help the mostly low-income residents.

Several other tenants in ground-floor businesses have also left, including a computer shop and vitamin-and-record store.

Full Circle Bakery of Penngrove will open a café in the storefront at the corner, Andrews said.

He has complained about Taps' clientele causing noise, fighting or leaving trash outside the pub, although he said it has calmed down recently.

Police Lt. Tim Lyons said the pub hasn't been a law enforcement problem. Police have received only seven calls for service this year. A bar one block down has had more than double that number of calls.

But after dealing with outdated equipment and the venting failure last week, Lafranchi said he's had enough: “We are moving out.”

He said he would like to keep his pub downtown since it has become a fixture for patrons interested in craft beers from a variety of breweries.

“We pay our rent. We're responsible. We contribute to downtown,” he said. “We provide a safe environment for people to hang out and don't cause any issues at all. We contribute to local charities to support a community that supports us right back.”

Kitchen equipment is part of Lafranchi's lease with Andrews, but the two disagree on who is responsible for maintaining it.

“He's supposed to maintain all this. It's all our stuff, leased to him,” Andrews said. “It's really in Eric's ballpark altogether now.”

Lafranchi said the lease states that if replacement costs more than 50 percent of the value, it's Andrews' responsibility and that Taps would pay a prorated portion for the remainder of the lease, which runs through mid-2014.

The equipment is probably 30 to 35 years old and has a lifespan of about 10 to 15, he said.

“It's beyond its useful life and needs to be replaced,” Lafranchi said, estimating it could cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to replace.

He said Andrews has reported the brewpub to the Health Department and Fire Department several times, leading to last week's closure and trouble on Saturday when the pub was using a Health Department-approved barbecue. Lafranchi said there were no safety problems, but the fire marshal said a special permit was needed to use the barbecue. Lafranchi said he voluntarily quit using it.

“He (Andrews) is basically forcing us to look for a new space,” Lafranchi said. “We feel comfortable going somewhere else. With the awesome customer base we have, we feel like we can set up shop anywhere and people will trust our vision.”

Andrews said he isn't trying to force Taps out, but is fine with them leaving.

“It really depends on what is the need of the hotel,” he said, adding that the Taps space was originally the entrance to the hotel.

Returning it to that use is “in the consideration stage,” Andrews said.

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