City wants to close restaurant Facade alleged to be dance club

January 17, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

It is called Facade -- and to Baltimore officials, that's an apt name.

The city contends that the building at 5507 Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore, originally zoned as a restaurant with dancing, is not a restaurant at all but a front for an unlicensed after-hours dance club.

City officials are moving aggressively to shut it down. They are being backed in their efforts by area police and business leaders, who say the teen-age and young adult patrons of Facade create problems with vandalism and crowd control outside the club.

"It is a continuing problem," says Steve Erlanger, president of the Reisterstown Road Merchants Coalition. "When the club lets out, the kids take over the street and get destructive. We have reports from several businesses that have had various types of vandalism, from trash-type violations to having rocks thrown through their windows."

But Facade's management, club-goers and even some community residents paint a far different picture of the 6-month-old nightspot.

They say Facade -- which features a few tables, a large dance floor and a booming sound system -- does indeed have a food menu, although they concede it is limited. More to the point, they say that Facade provides a sorely needed gathering place for black teens and that whatever problems it may have created have been greatly exaggerated by those who don't want large crowds of young blacks.

"I'm all for it," says Delores Brown, vice president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association. "I think it fills a role. We haven't had a problem with it."

Frank Rodrigues, who heads the company that operates Facade, saysthe problem is with city officials and not his business.

"What the city is doing is lessening its responsibility to provide entertainment for young people," says Mr. Rodrigues, a veteran of the entertainment business and a popular nighttime disc jockey on radio station WXYV-FM (V-103), where he is known as Frank Ski.

Both sides will get a chance to air their feelings at a Jan. 26 hearing before the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.

The zoning board will be listening to an appeal by Facade of the city's rejection in October of its application for a new permit to operate as a restaurant with dancing.

The rejection followed the city's September revocation of Facade's original permit to run a restaurant with dancing, on the grounds that Facade did not serve any food.

The city is also seeking a permanent court injunction to prevent Facade from staying open. It is considering prosecuting the club in housing court for operating without a license, an offense that carries a fine of up to $500 a day.

To city officials involved, the Facade case is reminiscent of that of Odell's, the popular North Avenue nightspot that the city finally closed last fall after a protracted legal battle.

In the Odell's case, the city first cited the club in April 1991 for violating its permit as a private club, saying it was actually an after-hours dance hall. Many community residents complained about the noise and crime, including at least a dozen shootings in an 18-month period, they said were caused by patrons of Odell's.

In the last several months, the city also has quietly forced the closing of a handful of establishments it said were illegally operating as after-hours clubs, and has at least one more under investigation, according to city zoning administrator David Tanner.

One issue involving Facade is whether it does, in fact, function as a restaurant with dancing.

Mr. Tanner says he revoked Facade's permit, issued last April, after his office was alerted by police that it was operating primarily as a dance club and inspectors found no food being served on several occasions.

Management of Facade, which is open weekends, responds that it in fact sells between 75-100 hot dogs and about two dozen pizzas and a dozen cold-cut subs each night. The club's management said it also periodically puts out a buffet featuring such items as potato salad and Swedish meatballs that is included in the $7 admission price.

But clearly, food service is something Facade does not promote. A recorded telephone message at Facade touting a recent weekend made no mention of food at all.

"We'll kick off this weekend with our Freaky Friday Night Jam. Doors open at 9 p.m. sharp," the message said. "We'll finish our weekend with Super Sunday. Again, doors open at 9. We'll jam until 3 in the morning."

As thorny as the issue of whether Facade qualifies as a restaurant is the question of just how many problems are created by the presence of the club.

Even some opponents of Facade admit that the problems are not on the same scale as those at Odell's, whose capacity of 1,000 people made it four times as big as Facade.

"It can be another Odell's. We want to do something before that occurs," says Jerry Harris, president of the Woodmere Association, which opposes Facade.

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