Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on September 17, 2015.

Written by Becky Witt

1:00 p.m.

The three commissioners began hearings at 1:08pm. Chairman Benjamin Neil and Commissioners Douglas Trotter and Elizabeth Hafey were all present.

Expedited Items (Transfers, Amendments) and Regular Docket (New applications and hardship extension):

None of the cases scheduled for new or transferred licenses or hardship extensions were heard. The 2844 Hudson Street case was called, but no one was present. The 1117 S. Charles St and 2101 Maryland Ave cases were both administratively postponed before hearings began.

Violations:

Licensee Daniel Macatee
Business Name 1222 Hull Street Corporation
Trading As Hull Street Blues Cafe
Address 1222 Hull Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 4.05: Prohibited Hours – July 25, 2015 – At approximately 1:50 am, Inspector Chrissomallis, Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct an inspection. Inspector Chrissomallis approached the establishment discreetly and heard music emanating from it shortly before 2:00 am. All inspectors waited until 2:02 am and then entered the establishment. Upon entering the establishment inspectors observed four (4) patrons in the establishment with alcoholic beverages in front of them. Inspectors advised and issued the bar clerk/manager of a corresponding violation.

Hearing notes

Mr. Daniel Macatee appeared before the Board, unrepresented by an attorney and admitted the violation. Macatee said that he has owned the business since 1984, so he is in his thirty-first year of business. This is his first violation. Over the past three months, someone has been calling in to 311 with complaints; Macatee speculated that it could be an upset neighbor or a disgruntled former employee. All of the complaints have been unsubstantiated, according to the licensee, up to this point. Macatee said that their normal procedure is to have “last call” at 1:30am, but the bartender that day said that he didn’t issue a last call until 1:50am. Three of the four people with alcohol in front of them were employees, who claimed that they had pushed their drinks to the edge when the inspectors came in, but the alcohol was on the bar. Macatee said that he was shocked to see that this had happened, that he has respect for the law and takes his license and business seriously.

Chairman Neil told the licensee that, if there is someone in the neighborhood with a problem, the licensee should use a little caution. Commissioner Hafey asked how many calls there had been. Macatee responded that there had been between four and six over the last three months. Commissioner Trotter asked the inspectors who were present what the 311 complaint was about; BLLC inspector Mark Fosler responded that the call had to do with patrons outside drinking from open containers. The inspectors did not see any such patrons when they visited the establishment. Inspector Chrissomallis said that he has personally responded to one or two complaints at this establishment, and has never before found any problems. It is a small neighborhood bar, and every time he has been there, it’s been quiet.

Zoning R-8
Neighborhood Locust Point
Area demographics 90% White, 3% Black, 3% Asian. 3% Hispanic ethnicity. 15% households have children under age 18. Median household income: $73,342. 8% households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; no.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 1
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 3
Result of hearing Responsible. $100 fine.
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

The commissioners noted that the licensee’s 30+ year record of operating without a violation was impressive.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None.
Licensees Edward Jeter & Manpreet Singh
Business Name PNA, Inc.
Trading As Washington Bar & Liquor
Address 2501 Washington Boulevard
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 4.18: Illegal Conduct- July 11, 2015- At approximately 12:30 am, Inspector Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct an inspection. Upon arriving at the establishment Inspectors observed patrons exiting the establishment with open containers of alcoholic beverages in their possession and drinking those containers in front of the establishment on the public right of way. Inspectors took pictures of this incident. At no time before the inspectors arrival and investigation did a representative from the establishment attempt to stop patrons from exiting the establishment with open containers.

Violation of Rule 3.03(c): Employee Records- July 11,2015- At approximately 12:30 am, Inspector Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a routine investigation. While conducting their inspection, the inspectors asked for copies of the employee records of all personnel employed and working at the establishment. The bartender/store manager could not provide inspectors with employee records as required by BLLC rules and regulations.

Hearing notes

Liquor Board Inspector Mark Fosler testified that the agency had received information from a community leader in the area that the bar was a problem and decided to do an investigation of 2501 Washington Boulevard. Upon arriving at the bar, he and Inspector Tom Karanikolis observed patrons exiting the establishment with open containers in their hands. Fosler and Karanikolis went inside to talk to the manager, and, while they did that, they noticed another patron exiting the business with an open container. The inspectors requested employee records during their routine inspection, and the manager could not provide them. Under cross-examination by the licensees’ attorney, Mr. Melvin Kodenski, Fosler testified that the patrons were drinking from cans of beer, and there were at least three different patrons leaving with open containers that he personally saw. The patron was not arrested. Inspector Karanikolis testififed that he observed the same things that Fosler had testified to already, and he was certain that the containers of alcohol were opened inside the bar, not outside.

Mr. Manpreet Singh testified that he had been a licensee for five years. He said that he has “no loitering” signs inside and outside, and he is willing to add “no open containers” signs. Singh keeps a 911 log, and he calls the police regularly for loitering issues. He testified that there were employee records on site during the inspection, and he did not know why his manager could not find them. Ms. Sherry Munion, bar manager, testified that her customers regularly drink from open containers outside on the sidewalk, “all the time,” but she says that they never open the containers inside the store.

The commissioners asked whether there had been prior violations of the law; Kodenski responded that there have been two: one illegal gambling violation in 2011 and one violation for not having the tavern side of the business operating in 2010. Liquor Board Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth explained that, with BD-7 taverns operating illegally as only carryout stores, patrons drinking from open containers on the sidewalk is a common problem.

Kodenski told the commissioners that the bar is located in a “tough area” of Baltimore. Sometimes the patrons are “argumentative, to say the least.” On the street, they can do what they want. Once they’re out of the licensed premises, there’s not much the licensee can do, except prohibit individual patrons from the store. The licensee doesn’t have the authority to stop people from drinking outside the business: they can’t take the drink from him, they can’t lock him up. The licensee chimed in that his patrons won’t listen to him, and it’s not just one person who drinks from an open container in front. He said, “it’s like 150 different people.” If the licensee tells them to stop, his patrons start stealing from him. “We’re sitting in a tough location,” he said.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Morrell Park
Area demographics 48% White, 36% Black, 4% 2 or more races; 10% Hispanic ethnicity; 40% households have children under age 18; median household income: $33,644; 22% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 2
Result of hearing Responsible for both charges. $250 fine for both violations together.
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None.
Other reasons given for decision

Chairman Neil said that he understood that the licensee is doing “all the right things” but he needs to have employee records available. Commissioner Hafey agreed and said that she believed the testimony of the inspectors. The commissioners explained to the licensee that if his patrons open the alcohol inside, it’s a violation for the licensee, but if they open it outside, it’s not.

On the last point, Kodenski pointed out that these rules don’t apply the same to the Orioles and Ravens stadiums. Chairman Neil asked Kodenski, “did you leave your dog and pony out front? They’re not here.”

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Previous administrations of the Board held that a licensee is responsible for the conduct of his patrons, even if they are standing outside the threshold of the front door of the business.

Licensees Gurpreet Singh
Business Name G & S 3724, LLC
Trading As Main Street Bar & Liquors
Address 3724 Eastern Avenue
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 4.18: Illegal Conduct- July 12, 2015 -At approximately 1:25 am, Inspector Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on community complaints. Upon arriving at the establishment Inspector Karanikolis entered the establishment and proceeded to the rear tavern area where he observed approximately 15-20 people dancing. This establishment does not have the privilege to provide live entertainment.

Violation of Rule 4.18: Illegal Conduct- July 12, 2015- At approximately 1:25 am, Inspector Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on community complaints. Upon entering the establishment Agent Fosler also observed there were approximately 160 individuals within the establishment. The security guard was asked if he was utilizing a counter to keep track of capacity. The security guard answered “no.” The licensee stated that the fire rating for the rear area was 99 people. As per the Baltimore City Fire Department the Fire Capacity rating is 96 and the fire department’s fire rating certificate expired on June 26, 2015. Based on the investigator’s count the establishment had far exceeded the capacity rating allowed by law.

Violation of Rule 3.03(c): Employee Records- July 12,2015- At approximately 1:25 am, Inspector Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on community complaints.While conducting their investigation, the inspectors asked for copies of the employee records of all personnel employed and working at the establishment The bartender/store manager could not provide inspectors with employee records as required by BLLC rules and regulations.

Violation of Rule 4.18: Illegal Conduct- July 18, 2015- At approximately 1:25 am, Inspector Karanikolis and Inspector Chrissomallis visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on community complaints. Upon arriving at the establishment Inspector Karanikolis and Chrissomallis entered the establishment and proceeded to the rear tavern area where he observed approximately 15 people dancing. In addition, they also witnessed a DJ speaking in an amplified microphone.This establishment does not have the privilege to provide live entertainment.

Hearing notes

Former Liquor Board Chairman Stephan Fogleman represented Mr. Singh, who appeared with one of his employees.

Liquor Board Inspector Mark Fosler testified that he, Karanikolis and Chrissomallis had conducted a special investigation of Main Street Bar and Liquors after complaints from neighbors. On July 12, at 1:25am, Karanikolis and Fosler entered the establishment. In the rear of the building, which was set up as a nightclub and was extremely crowded, Karanikolis observed about 15-20 patrons dancing. Because of the number of people inside, Fosler had to walk behind the bar to count the patrons. He visually divided the establishment into sections and counted the patrons in each section. He said that his conservative count was 160 individuals inside. The security guard told the inspectors that he was never asked to keep track of the number of patrons. The stated capacity on the fire permit was 96 people, including employees. There were many women working behind the bar, and the manager on duty could not make employee records available to the inspectors. Inspector Chrissomallis testified that, on July 18, he entered the bar with Baltimore Police Lieutenant William Colburn, and he and Karanikolis saw a DJ with an amplified microphone and around 15 patrons dancing.

Mr. Fogleman cross-examined Inspector Chrissomallis: “can you cite for me where any use of a microphone constitutes live entertainment?” DJs are covered under the zoning code’s definition of live entertainment, which states: “§ 1-153.2. Live entertainment. (a) In general. “Live entertainment” means any one or more of any of the following, performed live by one or more persons, whether or not done for compensation and whether or not admission is charged: (1) musical act (including karaoke); (2) theatrical act (including stand-up comedy); (3) play; (4) revue; (5) dance; (6) magic act; (7) disc jockey; or (8) similar activity.” Chrissomallis did not understand what the DJ was saying, because he was speaking in Spanish. The inspector added that he has since returned to the establishment and spoken with the owner, who has added security personnel to prevent people from dancing and set up tables on the dance floor.

Mr. Gurpreet Singh, the licensee, then testified that on July 12, a lot of people just happened to show up, which was unusual. After the violation, his security staff has clickers to count how many people are inside, and they never let it go above 80 people, though the capacity is 96. Singh said that he did not have the employee records because they were temporarily moved out of the building when he had to replace the floors of his business due to water damage. Mr. Singh tried to open a craft beer bar in 2014, but it did not work, so now he’s operating a bar for New Americans. Singh says that there are “no dancing” signs throughout the building and that his security guards tell people to stop dancing, though his patrons are getting annoyed. He has hired four security guards, who work throughout the building and check for weapons and drugs in the front. Though Mr. Singh consistently referred to the person on the microphone as the “DJ” and admitted to hiring him, he testified that they only use the microphone to announce last call. To remedy the dancing issue, Singh is applying for live entertainment permission from the Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals; if he does not receive it, Singh will probably move the business elsewhere, because the “community is difficult.”

Commissioner Trotter asked the licensee why the same thing happened one week after they had already received a violation. Singh said he was, but he can’t do much except shut the doors and not let anybody in. Trotter noted that Mr. Singh had hired the DJ himself and that DJs are generally hired to encourage people to dance. Singh said that the music is what makes people dance, and even if there were no DJ, people would still be dancing to music played over the sounds system.

The commissioners asked whether this licensee has had a history of violations; Fogleman responded that, yes, Mr. Singh had had a violation in 2013, when Fogleman was the chair of the board.

Mr. Oscar Pilarte, a bartender at Main Street six nights a week, testified that he was telling patrons not to dance and reitereated Mr. Singh’s testimony that the microphone isn’t used except at last call. Pilarte says that the patrons get mad when they find out that they can’t dance, and sometimes he has to call the security over.

Mr. Kevin Bernhard, on behalf of the Highlandtown Community Association, testified, over Mr. Fogleman’s objection, that the community has entered into an agreement with Mr. Singh about everything that was discussed during the hearing. Bernhard said that Mr. Singh is fully aware of his responsibilities and was found guilty for the same things in 2013. “He keeps doing what he’s doing in order to make money,” said Bernhard, and asked for as harsh a penalty as the Board was able to give.

Chairman Neil told Bernhard that, when Mr. Fogleman was the chair of the Board, he liked MOUs, but, according to Neil, “we don’t have the authority to enforce MOUs.”

Mr. Fogleman closed by arguing that Mr. Singh has done “everything he needed to do to remedy the violations.” Fogleman said that these violations were frustrating to Singh, because “he’s never encouraged his patrons to dance.” The attorney said that “someone who’s fading music in and out is not a DJ. Those are automated jobs.” Fogleman asked, “where does a hip sway end and dancing begin?” and made comparisons to the movie Footloose.

Zoning B-2-3
Neighborhood Highlandtown
Area demographics 66% White, 9% Black, 3% Asian; 19% Hispanic ethnicity, 17% households have children under age 18; median household income: $60,484; 15% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Former Liquor Board Chairman Mr. Stephan Fogleman
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 1
# of inspectors/police officers 3
Result of hearing Responsible. $250 fine per charge = $1,000 total.
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Chairman Neil said that his issue with this licensee is that he’s making promises prospectively and didn’t take initiative until he was forced to do it. People are still dancing there. Neil said that his job was “not about closing people down and hurting people” but with the license comes responsibilities. Commissioner Trotter found the similar violations one week apart to be disturbing. He suggested a $1,000 fine, total. The other commissioners agreed.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

This hearing was a nearly identical copy of the hearing for the same licensee and establishment, which occurred on September 19, 2013, almost two years to the date before the present hearing. In the 2013 hearing, Chairman Fogleman and his two fellow commissioners heard testimony that patrons at Main Street Bar & Lounge were dancing. In 2013, Lieutenant Colburn had testified that there was live entertainment without permission. When Colburn told Singh that he was in violation of his license, Singh told Colburn that he knew he was, but he was going to do what he was going to do in order to make money. Mr. Frank Boozer, Singh’s attorney at the time, excused his client by arguing that Singh is very young and didn’t know that having a DJ was not allowed. This is, essentially, the same testimony that Mr. Singh gave again, two years later.

The hearing also brings to mind all of the hearings that took place under former Chairman Fogleman’s administration, in which the presence of a DJ with a microphone and patrons dancing easily constituted a violation of the Liquor Board’s rules and regulations.

Just one example:

Chairman Neil was incorrect when he said that the Liquor Board does not have the authority to enforce MOUs. To the contrary, the Board has had this authority since 1995, when the Maryland Court of Appeals held in the BLLC v. Fells Point Cafe case that “when a licensee agrees to reasonable restrictions in order to obtain a license that clearly would not otherwise be granted, the licensee will be estopped from later arguing that the Board had no power to place such a restriction on the license.” When Liquor Board commissioners are wrong about a well-established principle of the law that they are charged with enforcing, it suggests a structural lack of proper training and education.

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