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Under Proposed Bill, Cocktails Could Soon Be On Some Small Local Restaurant Menus

Ryan Benk
The Casbah Café has been serving Middle Eastern cuisine, hookah, beer and wine in Avondale since 1999."

Jacksonville residents may soon be able to enjoy a stiff drink with their meals at their favorite boutique restaurants.

That’s if a proposed local bill passes, expanding who can serve liquor within city limits.

Avondale and Riverside business owners are hoping the change will help them compete.  

After a vote of support from the Jacksonville City Council, Duval County state lawmakers are pushing a proposal to relax liquor licensing in Avondale, Riverside and Murray Hill.

Jacksonville Democratic Representative Reggie Fullwood is sponsoring the local legislation.

“This relaxes the criteria,” Fullwood said. “[It] allows for small restaurants, for example like a Biscotti’s or Casbah, places that may not have 200 seats, but they have about 100, 150 seats, to have a full-blown liquor license.”

Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News
Casbah Café manager Jessica Deguzman and an employee chat with a hookah customer early Friday afternoon. The restaurant is hoping to add liquor bottles to its array of wine currently available at its bar.

Shortly after opening Friday morning, employees of The Casbah Café, a Middle Eastern themed restaurant and hookah bar, were reorganizing the wine cooler.

Owner Nader Kazal said business is steady, but he finds it hard to compete against his new neighbors:  large chain restaurants that sell liquor.

“Everybody else around us has it,” Kazal said. “So, it kind of puts us at a disadvantage not to have it. So, that’s why we’re trying to get an exemption to get liquor.”

The Casbah falls below the state threshold to serve spirits. Although it’s already a popular night spot in the historic district, Kazal is looking to grow.

“We might expand next door, hoping that we’re going to get more business,” Kazal said.

He said those plans are on hold until Fullwood passes the Legislature. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.