19 Aug 2014
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Asylum Takes New Direction

East Atlanta bar/restaurant has new majority owner and niche focus, but liquor license issue remains.

Asylum Takes New Direction

EAST ATLANTA — Since opening in July of last year in what had been the former Echo Lounge-turned-Icehouse space, the Asylum has suffered from something of an identity crisis.

It's not the go-to place for the young and restless hipster set; that's 529 EAV. Nor is it the neighborhood watering hole for indie music devotées; that's the EARL. It's also not trying out-Mary Mary's.

What the Asylum is trying to be is a place for everyone.

The bar has undergone several behind-the-scenes transformations in recent months, including bringing in a new majority owner, a new chef and general manager.

Meanwhile, it still is entangled in a row with Neighborhood Planning Unit-W over its liquor license.

City codes allow an establishment to have live entertainment and sell beer and wine. But in order to sell hard liquor such as vodka and have live entertainment, it can't be within 300 feet of the nearest residential property.

NPU-W's interpretation of measuring the distance is from closest point to closest point between properties. Asylum's stance has been front door to front door.

The bar, which has had live entertainment and sold hard liquor, has a "due cause" hearing Tuesday, Jan. 8, before the city's License Review Board.

The due cause is "operating a business without an occupation tax registration certificate/allowing live entertainment although the restaurant has not been approved for live entertainment.," as written on the LRB's agenda.

Salvatore Insinga, the Asylum's general manager, told East Atlanta Patch the Asylum's owners believe they are in the right.

What the bar is focused on right now is carving out an identity and niche.

"We're trying to produce a really good product for the East Atlanta Village," Insinga said.

Mike Comastro, who now is majority owner, wants the venue to focus on how it wants to define itself. (Brian Michael Sawyer, the original owner, retains a minority ownership stake.)

To that end, the bar is focused more on its music offerings and efforts to carve a niche from the Village's other music venues, he said.

"It went through an identity crisis," Insinga said.

The plan is to offer a steady variety of entertainment offerings: On Mondays, live comedy; two Tuesdays a month, hip-hop; on Wednesdays, punk and metal, and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, electronic dance music.

In most cases, Asylum won't charge a cover, he said, adding the venue has bookings through April 2013.

"I want to have something for everybody," Insinga said, adding the sound and lighting in the venue have been overhauled at a cost of about $100,000.

Unlike the Midway across the street or the Flatiron, which have a stream of regulars and are regularly busy, the Asylum, by contrast, can't say the same.

But Insinga said the changes under Comastro, who owns several Chicago's Pizzas in Kennesaw and Smyrna, as well as in Jacksonville, Fla., will allow Asylum to build on its goal of appealing to a variety of audiences via a regular lineup of different entertainment options.

"We're trying to put quality shows for people," he said. "We don't think there's any other way."

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