Conway’s Family Pub suspending operations pending alcohol permits

By HASKEL BURNS,

A popular Lamar County pub that is seeking to sell alcoholic beverages has suspended operations as of Thursday, pending receipt of permits from the Mississippi Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Darian Pierce, developer of Conway’s Family Pub and The Colony at Turtle Creek Crossing at 5173 West 4th St. – which is directly across the street from Hattiesburg city limits – said the pub has struggled over the past months because of the exclusion of alcohol sales. Because Lamar County is considered a dry county, alcohol sales and consumption are not allowed except inside Hattiesburg city limits.

“We started the application process (for an alcohol license) back in December, and we should have had it done before we opened, but it got hung up in a county versus city issue,” Pierce said. “It hasn’t been a pub – it’s been the only dry pub on the planet because of that, and we just want it to be fun.

“We couldn’t be more sorry to (our regular customers), but that being said, when people go to a pub, they expect it to be a pub. You can’t be a pub without having an (alcohol) license, so at the end of the day, this is a decision that the owners themselves made. I totally understand and get it; it’s hard to make ends meet without being properly licensed.”

Early last year, officials from Pub Life LLC, the owners of the property, filed a petition that would allow Conway’s Family Pub to be taken into the city limits, and Hattiesburg City Council members voted in May not to object to the petition. Shortly thereafter, however, the Lamar County Board of Supervisors objected to the process, filing a response that stated the inclusion of the property into the city was not reasonable or a public convenience.

Rusty Hanna, Chief of Enforcement at the ABC, said his office did receive a request from the pub and inspected the facility to see if it met qualifications for a “resort area” status that would allow alcohol sales, but the property did not meet the criteria. According to provisions of Mississippi Code 67-1-5, areas can apply for the status if the area and its related property consists of at least 8,000 heated and cooled square feet, is used to host events for a fee, and is used for the purpose of culinary arts and/or outdoor recreation and leadership courses.

“They didn’t have 8,000 square feet in that building,” Hanna said. “Now they have asked us, if they build an addition and take in the porches and do some other stuff to increase their square footage, would we consider that to meet the definition of that code.

“We have not given them a response yet because we’re looking at the areas they’re wanting to take in, and one of them we don’t think is suitable for the public to be there. It’s the attic of the building, but they’re wanting to enclose it and insulate it, but we’ve got some concerns because of the height of the ceiling up there. But we’ll probably give them a written answer to their question within the next couple of weeks.”

According to a press release issued Thursday by Pub Life LLC, since Conway’s Family Pub opened on St. Patrick’s Day 2018, the facility has served as the host location for Commiskey-Wheat Detachment #1073 meetings and has served meals to first responders, Lamar County teachers and the local animal shelter. The pub also has provided fundraisers for cancer patients, catered weddings, hosted private events, taught culinary classes on Sundays, taught Irish River Dance lessons and assisted with a Christmas toy drive for the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office.

Pierce said the ABC’s decision could very well factor into the future of the pub, although he hopes to have a re-opening within 30 to 45 days.

“There are restaurants that make it without (selling) alcohol, but when people hear of an Irish pub, they have certain expectations for an Irish pub to be able to have certain characteristics,” he said. “Probably every time I’m in church or in public, people keep asking me about that license, and say they would come more often or come back if we had a license. So it is something that’s expected with an Irish pub.

“This isn’t a permanent closure; this is a closure until we can re-open. We have great customers and a great atmosphere that the owners have put together there, and I hate to see them close their doors too. We can’t wait until these things are handled.”