Noisy saloon must make dining its focus

“They still can party at the new location,” said Sam Mustafa, owner of Market Street Saloon.

The Market Street Saloon’s controversial North Charleston location can remain open — but only as a restaurant.

The nightspot best known for its “saloon girls” and an open invitation for female customers to dance on the bar must tone down its late-night noise and focus on food, according to an agreement signed with city and county officials Tuesday night. The complete conversion must happen by the end of June.

Owner Sam Mustafa said he plans to reopen the business on Northwoods Boulevard as a “hot new concept” but declined to share details. He said the saloon would move somewhere else within the city and within proper zoning.

“They still can party at the new location,” Mustafa said after the meeting with the Charleston County Business License Appeals Board. The board adopted an agreement requiring that the business stop enforcing cover charges and hiring deejays. The agreement also required that the Market Street Saloon comply with all conditions set forth in 2009, including no dedicated dancing space and no music loud enough for people to hear outside the building.

Despite the late-night complaints from residents and an adjacent hotel, the Market Street Saloon always has been licensed as a restaurant in North Charleston.

Deputy city attorney Rich Lingenfelter explained that, under South Carolina law, a business with a liquor license simply requires a kitchen. Lingenfelter said Mustafa billed the Market Street Saloon as a “high-energy restaurant.”

That high energy keeps awake some nearby residents, three of whom appeared at Tuesday’s meeting.

An elderly man described sleepless nights and missed opportunities for a resolution. Renee O’Cain wondered what took so long.

“If you’ve been working on this since 2009, why are we looking at 2012, and this is just happening now?” she asked. “They are supposed to be operating as a restaurant, when they surely are not.”

Lingenfelter recalled early complaints when the saloon opened, how the concern subsided and then resurfaced last spring. He described visiting one resident’s bedroom at 1 a.m. to hear the bar noise for himself.

An attorney for the Holiday Inn Express and Suites near the saloon asked if the agreement required the business to change its model now or by the end of June.

Mustafa’s attorney, John Massalon, said his client needs the allotted time to make adjustments.

“As his business is oriented today, there’s a deejay booth,” Massalon said. “We are not able to leave here and get it out tonight,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is act in good faith, but we don’t want to get into a legal gotcha.”

Mustafa has until June 30 to convert the business. If he violates any condition of the agreement after that, North Charleston city officials can shut down the Market Street Saloon — or whatever business takes its place by then.

Reach Allyson Bird at ?937-5594 or Twitter.com/?allysonjbird.