The Cohen family loved the redevelopment of Carmel’s bustling Midtown area so much they decided to build a new home in the heart of it.
But only months after the home on 2nd St. SW was complete, The GOAT tavern opened next door, replacing what had been breakfast and lunch spot Bub’s Cafe until its closure in October 2019. It soon became clear that the Cohen’s new neighbor wasn’t at all like the previous one.
In addition to frequently finding trash strewn about their property and hearing noisy patrons until 3 a.m. and later, the family’s security cameras captured customers urinating, vomiting, passing out and even hooking up on the side of their yard adjacent to The GOAT. On one weekend in October, the cameras caught approximately 60 separate incidents, they said.
But perhaps most frustrating to the Cohen family is the fact that The GOAT is operating in a residentially zoned area. A variance approved in 2007 for Bub’s Cafe to operate a restaurant on the site expired when the use changed, a fact that city officials admit they overlooked when reviewing initial plans for The GOAT, which stands for Greatest of All Taverns. The Cohens — and others who live nearby — are trying to figure out how that happened.
“It’s obvious that (The GOAT) never should’ve been able to open,” Alan Cohen said. “We have been pounding and pounding and pounding the table with everybody that this is not right. Shut (The GOAT) down and make him do like any other business would do. File a petition requesting a new variance or new zoning and give us our rights and our opportunity as residents to come forward and remonstrate.”
When a rezone or variance is requested, the law requires that neighbors be notified and given the opportunity to express their opinions on the change. That didn’t happen with The GOAT, which opened as a much different establishment from what neighbors — and many city officials — were expecting.
“I’ve had nothing but complaints from the day it opened,” said Carmel City Councilor Bruce Kimball, whose district includes The GOAT. “It’s just unbelievable. They’ve turned Midtown into Broad Ripple. From 1 o’clock to 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning there’s all sorts of deviant behavior, urinating, defecation and even finding condoms on the sidewalks around The GOAT.”
The situation has gotten so bad, Kimball said, that he is sponsoring an ordinance that will go before the city council on Dec. 7 prohibiting urinating and defecating in public.
“It’s a shame that we have to have an ordinance like this,” Kimball said. “It seems like it’s a common sense-type thing.”
Kevin Paul, who owns The GOAT with his wife, Megan, acknowledges that the tavern got off to a rough start in its first few weeks, but he said he’s done everything he can to be a good neighbor, including installing a fence, hiring security, modifying hours and more. He believes the crowds and clientele have been largely driven by pandemic restrictions in Marion County and that the atmosphere at The GOAT will be different in the long term.
“What we’re experiencing right now is not what this business is going to be in June. It’s a 100-percent COVID event,” Paul said. “We’ve got a bunch of 20-somethings and early 30s who have nowhere to go. The place happens to be new and trendy and cool, and that’s why they’re going there.”
Yelling, screaming ‘right outside our window’
The Cohens, whose primary home is elsewhere in Carmel, aren’t the only nearby residents with complaints about The GOAT. Property management firm Barrett & Stokely opened The Railyard at Midtown apartments just south of the tavern in February, but as soon as The GOAT opened six months later, apartment management began hearing complaints about the noise.
“As much as I want successful restaurants and businesses around here for our residents to visit, the noise concerns became apparent almost immediately and have not stopped since August,” said Rachel Baldwin, property manager of The Railyard at Midtown. “I have to be an advocate for our residents and try to find solutions to their problems, and this is a problem they continue to report to me, being woken up until 2 or 3 in the morning consistently on the weekends. It’s not conducive to the lifestyle they were anticipating when they leased here.”
Baldwin helped one resident who lived near The GOAT relocate to the other side of the building, and she’s received frequent noise complaints from several others who live on the north side of the property. She’s encouraged residents to call the Carmel Police Dept.’s nonemergency line to report problems as her attempts to work with The GOAT’s management and city officials to resolve the problem haven’t been successful.
Tom Willson moved into The Railyard in May but was at his home in Florida when The GOAT opened this summer. He was shocked by the changes when he returned in October.
Willson’s unit is about halfway down the block from The GOAT, so noise directly from the tavern isn’t his biggest problem. Rather, he is often disturbed by customers walking past his home after 3 a.m. when The GOAT closes.
“There are people right outside our window. They’re yelling and screaming, and they’re obviously drunk,” he said. “They’re revving their engines and speeding up 2nd Avenue.”
Willson doesn’t necessarily want to see The GOAT shut down, but he would like to see modifications, such as reduced hours or alcohol stopped being served at midnight.
Paul, who said he’s already taken a large revenue hit by making changes to address concerns, said he welcomes feedback from neighbors and that he expects the situation to continue improving.
“All I’m asking for is a little bit of time and patience and continued recommendations as to resolve and fix some problems,” he said.
City takes action
When city councilor Jeff Worrell began hearing repeated complaints about The GOAT’s late-night crowd, he stopped by for a look. He had previously been a patron of The GOAT during dinner hours and was surprised by the change in clientele after midnight, both during the week and on weekends.
“This is not a family friendly environment. This is not what I envisioned for Midtown,” said Worrell, an at-large councilor. “After 1 o’clock, (the atmosphere) is totally different, and therefore I believe we need to take some action to protect the investment that the taxpayer has made, the investment of other businesses and certainly, ultimately, the residents around that area who did not bargain for a Broad Ripple-esque environment at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Worrell and fellow at-large council member Kevin “Woody” Rider co-sponsored an amendment to the city’s noise ordinance introduced at the Nov. 16 council meeting that prohibits machines that emit sounds, such as radios and loudspeakers, from being used between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. If approved, Worrell said it’s only one piece of what he sees as a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem.
Another proposed step is rezoning the property and — through that process — restricting the tavern’s operating hours. The Carmel Plan Commission is set to review a rezone request submitted by Carmel’s Dept. of Community Services at its Dec. 15 meeting that would convert The GOAT and the Carmel Clay Historical Society’s property to the north from residential to mixed-use zoning. If the rezone request isn’t approved, The GOAT likely will not be permitted to continue operating.
Cohen — who considered pursuing variances for his own Midtown home before building it — said he doesn’t understand why the city is petitioning for the rezone rather than Paul. Willson said the situation doesn’t make much sense to him, either.
“It’s disappointing that there would be any sort of effort to try to match the zoning to the way the restaurant is operating instead of forcing the restaurant to operate to the requirements of the zoning,” Willson said. “That is kind of head-scratching to me in this city where things are so well-run normally.”
The Carmel City Council will have the final vote on whether or not a rezone is approved for The GOAT, but Kimball said he believes several councilors would vote with him against it.
“A number of my colleagues are not in favor of changing the zoning because of the bad behavior (at The GOAT),” Kimball said. “Jeff Worrell and I, earlier in the summer, had a long talk with the owner, who said he would control it, and he hasn’t. All we got was lip service.”
How was it missed?
Cohen questions how the city could have overlooked the zoning requirements for The GOAT. His son, Nathan, emailed the Dept. of Community Services on May 22, asking if the new restaurant in the Bub’s Cafe site would need any variances to operate. Four days later, a planning administrator wrote back stating that she did not know if variances would be required.
Carmel Director of Community Services Mike Hollibaugh said the city’s planning department was not aware of the zoning mistake until then.
“By the time the zoning issue was fully realized, the construction was near completion,” Hollibaugh said. “The initial response by DOCS was not to stop construction but rather to work with the owner on the zoning issue, believing it could be fixed over the coming months.”
Construction continued, and whenThe GOAT opened, the Cohens were shocked at what was allowed to transpire without a rezone or variance of any kind.
Hollibaugh said that the zoning proposed for The GOAT and the Carmel Clay Historical Society’s site to the north have been the intention for the area for years.
“Regardless of the technical mistake made by city staff, the plan has always been for restaurants, housing, retail and office to coexist all along Monon Boulevard,” Hollibaugh said. “This rezone is to get the zoning into compliance with the plan not only for this particular parcel of land but a larger area along Monon Boulevard.”
Cohen said he was prepared to live next to a vibrant urban center, but that’s not what the experience has turned out to be, he said.
“We were all here before The GOAT. The GOAT is the last thing that’s been developed in this area,” he said. “We did not expect this to happen. Nobody could’ve expected this to happen.”
Draining police resources?
Complaints stemming from customers of The GOAT may have the most impact on the tavern’s immediate neighbors, but some believe the problem has ripple effects on the entire community because of the police resources being devoted to the area.
Carmel Police Dept. Lt. James Semester declined to provide details on arrests or calls generated by The GOAT. Current has filed a public information request to obtain this data.
“There are instances when we bring in more officers to patrol the Midtown area. Generally, those are evenings/nights where we expect larger community attendance in that district,” he said. “On-duty officers are not being pulled off of regular responsibilities to keep an eye on The GOAT.”
Carmel City Councilor Bruce Kimball said he’s heard of several incidents stemming from The GOAT that led to police involvement and witnessed some of it firsthand when he visited the area at 3 a.m. on a weekend and saw four police cars nearby.
“That takes resources away from other parts of the city,” he said.
According to Kimball, many of the problems occur after other bars and restaurants in the area close.
“They all come up to The GOAT, and they’re arriving drunk,” Kimball said. “We’ve had numerous police calls. We’ve had people injured getting out of their cars drunk to go to The GOAT. We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create this great environment, and we don’t want one establishment to ruin that.”
Not what was expected
In June 2019, the Carmel City Council voted to give one of four new alcohol permits it received from the state to a restaurant called Smoke’n Barrel proposed as a partnership between restaurateur Kevin Paul and the owners of Bub’s Cafe on the site that now houses The GOAT.
According to documents filed with the city to obtain the alcohol permit, Smoke’n Barrel was to provide an “open-air setting for small batch bourbons and spirits, artisanal cocktails, craft beers and smoked foods.” It was to be in a “beautiful newly renovated building” and feature “high-quality furnishings and decor” with a beer garden.
“The building and interior will reinforce the quality brand that Carmel residents have come to expect,” the document states.
City councilor Jeff Worrell said when he voted in favor of approving the alcohol permit in 2019, his impression was the restaurant would be more in line with others in the area, such as Fork & Ale and Sun King. Both are closed by 1 a.m. at the latest.
“I think most people felt like (The GOAT) was going to be like what was already there and doesn’t bother anybody,” Worrell said. “I didn’t anticipate that this could become something that it has, but I’m prepared now to work to try to bring it in line with the vision for Midtown.”
Kimball agreed that The GOAT has not turned out to be what he expected when voting in favor of the alcohol permit.
“Many of the neighbors that I talked to, myself included, were given the impression this was going to be a quiet, bourbon and cigar bar, not a 3 o’clock in the morning (establishment),” he said. “They’re not leaving at 3. They’re sometimes still around the firepit at 3:30, 4 in the morning. Drunks are pounding on residents’ doors. It’s just a real mess.”
Paul said he removed the cigar bar concept at the recommendation of city officials but that The GOAT is mostly in line with what was presented to the council in 2019.
“I didn’t spend half a million in renovations to have people come in and use (The GOAT) as a dive bar,” said Kevin Paul, owner of The GOAT. “That is absolutely not what this place is designed to be.”