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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen7:05 amJul 25, 20140

A dancer named “Brickhouse,” a Liquor Board in transition

Mat Jip gets a break, Clipper Mill Inn doesn’t and other tales of a new board whose actions still raise questions from a watchdog lawyer

Above: Among the cases before the Liquor Board was one involving this club on The Block, which was charged with a violation.

A dancer on The Block named “Jamaica Brickhouse” (who allegedly offered to “go up to the VIP and do whatever”), a barroom fight over a pool game in Highlandtown that included broken pool cues and bullets flying (“they were being punks!”) and the discovery of 49 bottles of Hennessy cognac from a stolen alcohol shipment (“licensee was unable to provide records for purchases”).

These were among the ya-gotta-♥-city-life! details that Baltimore police officers brought before the Liquor Board, according to the most recent post of Booze News, the Community Law Center’s watchdog blog about the agency.

But even though the post (an account of the hearings in City Hall from the July 17 docket) reads like the script of a reality TV show at times, it also includes seemingly dry material that is actually riveting for those watching to see how the three-member Board of Liquor License Commissioners is being conducted under new chairman Tom Ward.

In fact, the subject of the old and new eras was brought up explicitly by the board’s former executive secretary, Samuel Daniels Jr.

Daniels goes before Ward

Appearing as a “consultant’ to the licensees for 2101-03 Maryland Avenue (Mat Jip Korean Restaurant), Daniels sought to persuade the commissioners to give them a break on their pending transfer request, which had gone beyond the 180-day deadline.

They needed more time to fix ceiling tiles, Daniels said. The corporate entity associated with the establishment was not in good standing with the state, but the licensees would take care of it “after this hearing.”

“We are colliding, probably to the good, between the old policies and the new policies of the Liquor Board,” Daniels told him, according to the account written up by CLC blogger Rebecca Lundberg Witt.

“New policies? Doing what you’re supposed to do?!” Ward shot back.

“In the past, licensees were not held to the same stringent standard as now,” Daniels said.

Ward hammered him on why the renovations hadn’t been completed and the tax bill not paid off. Commissioner Harvey E. Jones said, “As part of the old and new boards,” he “took offense” at Daniels’ remarks.

New Commissioner Dana Moore was also frosty, chiding the licensee for his casual attire.

“I don’t think it’s respectful to come dressed with holes in your t-shirt. I think it is extremely disrespectful of this body,” she said. “I just have to say that. We deserve more.”

Still Granting Breaks

But in the end, the commissioners voted unanimously to give Mat Jip an extension (of 60 days) largely on the strength of support from the Charles Village Civic Association, which has negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the licensee.

It was not the only establishment to get a break on a pending transfer, something that Witt (a CLC staff attorney) says they do not have the authority to grant. It was an issue red-flagged in last year’s harsh legislative audit of the Liquor Board and reaffirmed by a Maryland Attorney General’s opinion, as Witt has discussed in a previous post.

But the board granted several establishments these breaks, including Anche, at 408 S. High Street in Little Italy, and The Horse You Came In On, 1626-28 Thames Street in Fells Point.

Meanwhile in other instances, such as the Clipper Mill Inn, at 1619 Union Avenue, the board denied their request. Perhaps the long lingering nature of the request was what swayed them.

“Commissioner Moore pointed out that [licensee Robert] Makarovich had submitted his application for live entertainment on October 4, 2011, almost three years before,” Witt wrote. “The board reviewed his progress in 2013 and gave him an additional 60 days.”

Rats and Lecture on Subsidized Housing

On the question of cracking down on nuisance bars, the new board seems to be showing some new and more consistent toughness.

Take the case of The Bridge Restaurant. They were seeking permission to transfer the ownership and location of a Class “BD7” license presently located at 532-34 North Montford Avenue to 3121 East Monument Street, and they sought permission for live entertainment.

Opposition came from a single person, speaking without an attorney present: Helen Vello, president of the Elwood Park Improvement Association for 34 years.

“She said that the neighborhood used to be a community of ‘middle class working families’ but that now the neighborhood has only 30% home ownership. She recounted problems with trash, rats, unsupervised juveniles, and drug dealers living in subsidized housing,” according to Witt’s account.

City Councilman Warren Branch testified against the request on his own behalf and on behalf of his brother, state Delegate Talmadge Branch. He said the area was “troublesome,” with high levels of crime and some homicides.

Vello did not have names on a petition and acknowledged under questioning that there had been no meeting of her group to formally take a position against the bar. She said she had contacted the 20 members of her group by phone.

It was, apparently, enough for the commissioners. They voted unanimously to deny the request.

Still Moore took a moment to chastise Vello for her blame of her neighborhood’s issues on Section 8 vouchers and subsidized housing.

“Those are very valuable tools for community uplift,” she said. “I bristle when I hear that – simply because there’s a Section 8 voucher – there is crime.”

Cop and Dancer “Conversate”

Further details of all these cases (except for the  cognac case, which was postponed) can be found in Witt’s lengthy post. In there is the story of Ms. Brickhouse.

The attorney for the establishment where the police officer said he was propositioned by her, Club Harem, at 425 East Baltimore Street, fought the charges as best he could.

Detective Fletcher Jackson had said she exposed herself to him and quoted a price of $170, plus a suggested $100 tip.

Under questioning by licensee’s attorney Melvin j. Kodenski, Jackson acknowledged that he never actually paid Brickhouse any money.

“After we conversated, she had to go up on stage and perform,” he said.

“Brickhouse was not arrested at the time but was issued a criminal summons later. She was not prosecuted for the offense,” Witt wrote.

Noting that the illegal act was never completed and that the licensee had no knowledge of the incident, Kodenski made a motion to dismiss the charges. But Ward and Jones weren’t buying it. “It’s clear to me that this thing took place,” Jones said.

Moore, however, disagreed with them: “I don’t think that the evidence substantiates the charges.”

Moore was concerned about the lapse of eight months between the event and the issuance of the charges. Calling that scenario extraordinary, unusual and not an acceptable practice, she argued against a finding of guilt.

She was outvoted 2-1. The licensees were found guilty and given a one-month suspension.

“Does Ms. Brickhouse still work for you?” Moore had asked the licensee, Steven Kougl, at one point, Witt noted.

No, he replied, Brickhouse left about two or three weeks after the incident. He said he didn’t know why she departed, noting, “They come and they go.”

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