Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Malcolm White is backing down from threats he made about moving Hal & Mal's out of Jackson, thanks to recent action the Jackson City Council took to squelch a controversy over which downtown bars would receive so-called resort status.
"We're pleased to be included now, but nothing has changed about how I feel about the process," White told the Jackson Free Press.
That process started in the fall, when Mayor Tony Yarber's administration asked the council to approve a resort-area plan for the new downtown Cathead Distillery. Under state law, bars have to stop selling drinks at 2 a.m., but exceptions are made for businesses in what are known as qualified resort areas.
Giving Cathead resort status initially drew criticism from some city council members as well as downtown business owners who felt left out in the cold. Among them was White, who has owned Hal & Mal's for three decades and said all downtown bars and venues should compete on a level playing field.
The city council approved the plan for Cathead, but started work on a second proposal to allow existing businesses to benefit, too. After about a month of negotiations, the council unanimously agreed Jan. 12 to submit applications to the Mississippi Department of Revenue for several businesses to become qualified resort areas.
All together, 10 more downtown watering holes could receive resort designation from the state to stay open—and keep pouring booze—until the wee hours of the morning. Those businesses span a relatively wide area and include neighboring Hal & Mal's, Martin's Restaurant & Lounge, Jaco's Tacos and One Block East. Also included in the plan are Johnny T's Bistro & Bar on Farish Street, Ole Tavern on George Street, South Street Live, Club City Lights on Mill Street and The Mansion on Greymont Avenue.
"This was a business idea to us. If there was going to be a conversation about resort status in downtown Jackson, Hal & Mal's has to be part of it," White said.
In the meantime, White said Hal & Mal's is considering whether to purchase the old railroad depot the restaurant has leased since the early 1980s. Last session, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill to give Hal & Mal's an option to buy the restaurant. White said the repairs, including replacing the roof above the concert space, and fixing water damage on the north end of the restaurant could double the purchase price.