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Liquor Issues

by Danielle Sweeney11:50 amApr 10, 20150

The party’s over for Craig’s

Liquor Board decides not to renew license of longtime student watering hole in North Baltimore

Above: Thirty-five residents and people who work in the community near Craig’s, a college bar on York Road, showed up yesterday at the Liquor Board to protest the bar’s liquor license renewal.

Favorites, the legendary North Baltimore party bar also known as Craig’s, had its liquor license renewal denied by the Liquor Board yesterday by a unanimous vote.

Only the bar’s owner and co-licensee, Jeffrey Evans, seemed surprised to have the city, after years of community complaint, actually “86” them.

The bar, located at 5804 York Road, had been suspended for 104 days for serving minors.

Remarks by city vice squad police officer Abraham Gatto perhaps best summed up the sentiment behind the decision.

Gatto called Favorites a “cancer” on the community and said if the college bar’s license were to be renewed, “it is only going to help one person, [the licensee].”

Craig’s Confessions

Residents, who were represented by the York Road Partnership’s lawyer Rebecca Lundberg Witt, said that the bar patrons were routinely so drunk when they left they couldn’t walk home safely and regularly threw up in neighbor’s yards.

The bar had its license suspended on January 22 for serving more than 100 minors during two October raids.

The social media reaction to the suspension from Craig’s customers was staggering.

Hundreds of Craig’s fans, many Loyola students and alumni, shared their “Craig’s Confessions” on Twitter, Facebook and Vine, corroborating residents’ and the police’s assertions that the bar’s business model was built around over-serving predominantly underage drinkers and uninhibited good times.

Evans did not appeal the January suspension, which would have ended on April 30.

“He took his punishment,” Evans’ lawyer, Melvin J. Kodenski, said.

The licensee had told the board it was his intention to reopen with a different business model, one that emphasized, “food over volume liquor,” he said, one that would be “family friendly.”

Evans said he and his landlord, Stephen Brennan, had met with 4th District Councilman Bill Henry this past week in hopes of preserving the license.

Asked by the board why he didn’t bring this change of vision to the community sooner – months ago – Evans said he found out about the protest of renewal and that the license “was in question” only about a week or so ago.

Pleas to Save the License

Appearing contrite while addressing the three commissioners, Evans pleaded with them to renew the license.

He said he already lost his job and livelihood and that he has three years left of his lease. He said he was already borrowing money from family members to pay the bills.

If the commissioners were to renew the license, he and Brennan vowed, it would remain inactive until a new business, built around food, could open. Evans promised the board the community would get to “sign off” on “the brand.”

Brennan, who said he is “pretty good at [business] turnarounds,” emphasized that a condition of the license renewal would be that Evans would not be part of the new business for very long.

He would  “exit quickly and remove himself,” said Brennan.

Suspension Brought Peace

The hearing lasted almost three hours and included testimony from Henry, neighborhood leaders and the Loyola University campus police.

Residents and members of the York Road Partnership spoke on the impact of the bar and the relative quiet the Homeland-area neighborhoods are experiencing since its suspension, as well as the decline in alcohol-related incidents on Loyola’s campus.

Gatto noted that it is not uncommon to see other bars pick up patrons after a nearby liquor establishment “gets clipped,” but said he has seen no uptick in underage drinking in nearby York Road establishments.

“We’ve eradicated a problem,” Gatto said simply.

Liquor Board Chairman Thomas Ward said that observation was telling. “Times have been quiet since they closed,” he said.

Also telling, said Commissioner Dana Petersen Moore, was the frank reaction by fans to the January suspension. So many people confessed on social media to under-age drinking at the bar that “even my dad had heard about it,” Moore said.

Who Didn’t Show Up

Some of the saddest testimony, Moore said, was that students were so over-served they couldn’t walk home properly.

Commissioner Harvey E. Jones, echoing his opinion  from the January hearing, said that the licensee seemed to care more about money than people.

Of note, no current or former Craig’s patrons testified in support of the bar keeping its license.

And 3rd District Councilman Robert Curran, a licensee for Maxie’s, a college bar in Charles Village who came out to advise Craig’s during its violation hearing, was also nowhere in sight.

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