by Heather Hoch
Local music lovers and barflys alike will be sad to hear that, as of Saturday, Jan. 31, the District Tavern will be closed for business—at least as its known now.
The District’s owner Noel Chester says the battle to keep her bar open in its current location actually began three and a half years ago when her landlord—downtown developer Scott Stiteler—sent Chester a memo saying her property had doubled in value.
Since then, according to Chester, the two have been going back and forth on numbers—raising her rent price from around $15 per square foot to $30 per square foot.
“He told me that if I couldn’t talk to him about that number, then we didn’t have anything to talk about,” Chester says.
Despite trying to negotiate, Chester says Stiteler informed her the 30-day negotiation period for her lease was up and she’d have to leave. After her attorney’s proposal that she stay in her current location on a month-to-month basis until Stiteler found a new tenant was denied on Dec. 17, Chester assumed the District was doomed to shutter.
“As far as I was concerned, it was finished,” she says.
However, this is, according to her, where things start to get pretty messy between them. On Christmas Eve, Chester says she received an email on behalf of Stiteler with a new deal. According to her, he would allow her to stay in her current location until March 23. However, under this agreement, she says he demanded that she leave her bartop in the building after she vacated, sign over the District’s business name and branding to Stiteler, and agree to a gag order so she would not speak to the press about the agreement.
“At best, I thought it was unethical to send that on Christmas Eve,” she says. “At worst, it was unspeakable.”
UPDATE: Upon reading the email mentioned, it was actually sent on Dec. 22. It also required a disparagement clause, not a gag order as previously reported— the key difference between the two being that a disparagement clause is a contract-specific term that prohibits speaking publicly in a negative manner.
Chester says she feels that Stiteler’s plan was to keep the District running—just without her.
“What they really want is my name, my bar top, and— I don’t know, come to your own conclusions, but it seems they want my business without me here,” she says. “I can’t say for sure, but I do know how it makes me feel.”
After that, Chester overheard that an employee at Good Oak Bar was saying that Stiteler would hire her to take Chester's place as future manager of the District. Chester says she then went into Good Oak and approached the employee.
"I told them that they will burn in hell before they get the District," she says. "It was a metaphor not a threat ... bad people go to hell."
Despite that, Chester hasn't had any resolution for her soon-to-close bar. She says when she opened her bar over a decade ago, Stiteler wasn’t her landlord and the entire feel of downtown was different then. As someone whose resume includes bartending at local spots like Hotel Congress since the ‘80s, she says she’s seen the city change.
“I know a little bit about downtown and what’s always been so extraordinary to me is that it’s so diverse,” Chester says. “To gentrify it and then say you’re making it better by pushing out diversity is worse than sad.”
Although Chester admits business has been slower for her in recent years, she doesn’t see the redevelopment of downtown as a main reason for that. She does, however, see the growing centralization of the city’s dining nightlife into one area as a bain for businesses on Fourth Avenue and beyond.
“There hasn’t been this population boom they thought there would be,” Chester says. “They’re draining clientele from one area to another now. What is that going to do? Who is that helping?”
After several attempts to reach Stiteler for comment, he did not return our calls. However, we hope we to talk with him in the future about his plans for The District space. As far as Chester, she says her plan now is to find a new job because she currently doesn’t have anywhere to move her bar.
Editor's Note: This post was changed from its original format to include new information.