Cuco's Restaurant

Cuco's Mexican Restaurant, located at 4426 E. Buckeye Rd., prompted noise concerns for neighbors. 

Though any Madison bar or restaurant can currently offer patrons the option to sing along to their favorite songs, a proposed ordinance change would require stricter licensing for karaoke performances.

Under the proposed ordinance change, establishments licensed to serve alcohol that currently have a karaoke machine would need to obtain either a $50 permit for up to six events or an annual license for $300. Establishments that host more than six permitted events in a year would be required to obtain the annual license.

All licensing and permitting decisions are subject to approval of the Alcohol License Review Committee, according to the proposed ordinance. If approved, the ordinance would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2018.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said the impetus for sponsoring the ordinance is directly related to noise complaints stemming from karaoke at Sol Azteca Fusion Grill, 1821 S. Park St., and Cuco’s Restaurant, 4426 Buckeye Rd. Both establishments’ liquor licenses were separated for closer scrutiny at the ALRC’s annual review meeting May 25.

At the meeting, Verveer announced he would consider removing karaoke as an exemption from entertainment licenses.

“The quality of life of neighbors was undeniably compromised,” Verveer said.

Elvehjem Neighborhood resident Christina McKee, whose house backs up to Cuco's, said the noise has been so loud that she and her husband installed new window panes, use a white noise machine and wear earplugs to sleep at night. The couple has attempted to resolve the issue with the restaurant’s owner but the problem persists.

“We want to be neighborly,” McKee said. “We love that there is a restaurant here, but the nighttime stuff is really turning into a problem at our home.”

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Current law requires an establishment to have an entertainment license whenever it offers live music performances, DJs or a designated dance floor area. Live entertainment does not include non-amplified or acoustic music performed by a single artist, according to the current ordinance.

In 2009, the City Council excluded karaoke from the definition of live entertainment while also amending the entertainment license to exclude the exemption for capacities under 50 people. At that time, the Madison Police Department said karaoke was not a problem, according to Verveer.

“(Karaoke) used to be covered under the ordinance prior to the 2009 amendment, and now we’re coming back full circle,” Verveer said.

Verveer said he plans to introduce the ordinance at the City Council’s July 11 meeting.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.