A famed watering hole dries up again

January 06, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Only two years ago the once-popular Owl Bar & Grill reopened with fanfare and promises of prosperity. But the bar is closed again and may have to find a new owner if there's to be any real hope for yet another reopening.

Last week, Baltimore's Board of Liquor License Commissioners suspended the license for the Owl Bar and the adjacent Renaissance Cafe & Club, both owned by restaurateur Dion M. Dorizas.

In response to complaints by tenants in the building at 1 E. Chase St., now called the Belvedere Grand Condominium, the board found him unfit to hold a liquor license.

Board members said Mr. Dorizas had failed to keep both establishments operating as restaurants, as required by restrictions on his liquor license. Instead, they found, the Renaissance had excessively loud music, dancing and live entertainment in the form of disc jockeys. They suspended the license until the establishment is "operated by fit and proper management."

Mr. Dorizas appealed the decision yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court. A hearing was scheduled for today.

He acknowledged that he had violated his license but said the offense was not serious enough to justify close down his businesses. He blames the problem on a liquor board he describes as being overly harsh and on a persistent Belvedere tenant who he believes has gone out of her way to make his economic life miserable.

"Spank me, close me down for one week, give me a fine, give me a warning, but don't say that I'm unfit to hold a liquor license," said Mr. Dorizas, who formerly owned Cafe Martinique, a Perring Plaza nightclub.

Mr. Dorizas bought the Owl Bar and the adjacent John Eager Howard Room in 1991. He changed the John Eager Howard to Club Renaissance and, in an effort to save the failing Owl Bar, changed its image to American Southwest and its name to the Taos Cafe.

The owner has battled Belvedere tenants and the liquor board since 1992. Tenants opposed his liquor license, which, although approved, prohibited the establishments from operating as nightclubs.

One liquor license was issued for the two clubs. The restaurant restriction requires music to be limited to a certain decibel level and bans flashing lights and mirrored balls. But the Renaissance used those accouterments, as well as disc jockeys, to attract large crowds of young patrons, and advertised itself as a nightclub.

One condominium tenant, Stacy L. Allen, has been especially critical of the Renaissance. She said she expected both establishments to operate as restaurants.

"We were all told that it would be a four-star restaurant," said Ms. Allen, a lawyer. "We thought it would be a great place to go at night for a meal after a long day."

She's written a number of long letters to the liquor board to complain that the Renaissance was not complying with restrictions on the liquor license.

Ms. Allen and two other Belvedere residents said during a conference in August that Mr. Dorizas was not complying with his license, according to liquor board records.

The board began its crackdown last month after Commissioner Curtis H. Baer read a Dec. 10 City Paper advertisement for the Renaissance touting the club as "Baltimore's Only Dance Club Featuring the Best Selection of Music, Techno, Alternative, Euro, House, and Latin. Hottest DJs, Sound System and Lights."

A liquor inspector closed the Renaissance for the night after visiting the establishment late Dec. 10, saying the club was violating its license. Other violations were reported on four other nights in December, although there were no flashing lights on two visits.

One liquor board official said the commissioners had to take serious action because of the persistent complaints from Belvedere tenants.

But the appeal filed by lawyer Melvin J. Kodenski calls the board's ruling illegal. It says the board never had made any official decisions on the alleged violations before suspending the license.

The appeal contends that the board unfairly singled out Mr. Dorizas, saying the liquor board hearing was hostile. It claims that another establishment in the Belvedere operating with the same class liquor license is allowed to have live music, dancing and light and sound shows without facing punishment.

Mr. Dorizas is asking the court to stay the liquor board's ruling until the appeal is decided. He said the closing will affect the jobs of 34 employees.

The board seemed open to transferring ownership of the license to Mr. Dorizas' estranged wife, Maryann Bennett, who owns 45 percent of the corporation that operates the Owl Bar and the Renaissance. Mark F. Scurti, a lawyer for Ms. Bennett, said an analyst now is trying to determine whether it would be feasible for her to operate them.

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