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Escargot 41, a longtime French restaurant in Park Shore Plaza in Naples, has plans to expand its local business with an adjacent piano bar and cocktail lounge.

The space proposed for the new lounge is not physically connected to the French restaurant but is less than 10 feet away in a courtyard area tucked away at the northwest corner of the L-shaped inline part of Park Shore Plaza, a Brixmor-owned development on the west side of U.S. 41 at Old Trail Drive, south of Neapolitan Way. The vacant unit proposed for the lounge was formerly part of Naples Pathology Associates’ medical offices and most recently was a local home design firm.

The proposed lounge at 4343 Ninth St. N. has about 60 seats, including a 20-seat square bar in the center with banquette seating and a couple of circular booths along the edges of the lounge. A piano is planned for its southwest corner.

Outside of Escargot 41 in NaplesIn addition to wine, the European-style piano bar will offer cold cuisine such as caviar, cheese plates, oysters, salads and tartares, said Stoyan Panayotov, current owner of Escargot 41, which has operated for nearly 20 years. “It will be part of the restaurant and open into the courtyard,” he said.

The existing fountain, landscaping, potted plants and Escargot’s existing covered seating will remain in the courtyard area. Cafe Creme de la Creme, which occupies Escargot’s former space before it relocated to a larger unit in 2020, also opens into the same courtyard.

Panayotov hoped to open the piano bar by the end of November, but the expansion project faced a setback June 12, when the Naples Planning Advisory Board continued its request for a conditional use permit to operate the new lounge there.

The petition is simply for an extension of the existing establishment, said Keith Long, an attorney at Long Law, a Cape Coral firm specializing in Florida liquor license law, who spoke at the meeting on behalf of the applicant.

“They want to remodel that portion and provide sort of a more lounge-like atmosphere whether before or after dinner for light bites and drinks,” Long said.

Planning Advisory Board members had questions about the proposed bar’s proximity to residential housing behind it, security, hours and other issues.

“Meeting all conditions is not a guarantee of approval,” said PAB Chair John Cross. “For example, in my opinion, Naples has plenty of bars. I can go out and get a drink pretty much anywhere whenever I want. I don’t think, personally, that Naples needs more bars. Since this is a conditional use and I’m a planner and I don’t think we need more bars, I can comfortably say we shouldn’t allow more bars. I would be functioning appropriately as my role as a planner to arrive at that conclusion.”

During the meeting, Interim City Attorney Ralf Brookes cautioned Cross from doing that. “I think that you should review each application on its merits, on its face, in its location with the conditions that are proposed,” Brookes said. “If you don’t like the conditions that are proposed by the applicant or by staff, such as operating hours, security measures, we don’t want to do what is called a de facto moratorium on bars. A bar is an allowable conditional use. Right now, the code does allow for a conditional use. We need to review each application individually in its location to determine whether it’s appropriate in that location.”

Board members did not think the petition as presented meets the criteria for review yet, so it voted 6-1 to continue the matter to its next meeting. Alternate member Daniel Barone cast the lone dissenting vote. Member Patrick Coughlan was absent.

Escargot’s attorney opposed a continuance to avoid pushing the matter to a future date. “With all respect, I would honestly prefer that this board recommend denial to the City Council so that we can move this forward to that other body,” he said. “Because it does, I’m sure many of you understand, it imposes a significant time constraint on the petitioner if you requested us to go back, resubmit the application for the staff, get on a hearing, legally schedule it for this body, get on the Council’s body in regards to summer hiatuses that are in effect. I would suggest, if the recommendation is that you don’t feel that it’s worthy of approval now, that you recommend denial and we advance this forward.”

However, the board continued the application to its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 11. The board does not have meetings scheduled in July and August. After clearing the PAB, the issue must still be approved by City Council.

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