Completing a flurry of liquor license transactions in South Baltimore before a state-imposed deadline, three businesses won approval last week to transfer licenses into the commercial district there.
A last-minute amendment by Del. Brian K. McHale to a bill that passed the General Assembly in the spring prompted or speeded at least six transactions, say business owners and residents. In the surrounding neighborhoods, the license activity has been one factor behind talk of a new umbrella organization of three community groups whose members have expressed reservations about the proliferation of bars in South Baltimore.
The amendment, scheduled to take effect today, bans the transfer of tavern licenses into an area bounded by Fort Avenue to the south, Hanover Street to the west, Henrietta Street to the north and Light Street to the east.
"When I put the amendment in, I thought because of the deadline there was going to be a rush," said McHale, a 47th District Democrat.
The amendment made for an unusually busy summer in an area that has about 30 liquor licenses. At Thursday's liquor board meeting -- the last before the ban took effect -- all three applications for transfers involved the South Baltimore commercial district.
Some community objections
All three applications were approved Thursday, despite community objections.
* Graham and Beverly Vinzant received permission to transfer a tavern license from Morrell Park. The license will allow them to sell wine at their new wine and cheese shop, Cross Street Cheese Co.
* The transfer of a seven-day tavern license from Race Street to Jay Gilliss, owner of Let's Eat at Jay's for 20 years, was approved. Gilliss, who has had a six-day tavern license since 1992, said the transfer will allow him to open his Cross Street restaurant Sundays.
* Doo Hwon Killian won approval for a new business at 38 E. Cross St., Cafe Eine, which will sell beer, wine and liquor under a license purchased and transferred from a Pigtown bar. But the liquor board put several restrictions on the tavern license, requiring the cafe to operate more like a restaurant than a bar.
Liquor board commissioners said during Thursday's hearing that they gave little weight to community objections to the three TC applications because residents did not present a united front. Board Chairman George G. Brown went so far as to chastise community leaders for failing to present "intelligent testimony."
"We strongly suggest that you come to one thought and body," Brown told residents and neighborhood leaders in attendance.
While businesses say the ban will hurt South Baltimore restaurants, McHale points out that the law permits restaurant liquor licenses, with certain restrictions: owners must invest at least $250,000 in the restaurant and must ensure that at least 40 percent of revenues come from sales of food, as opposed to drinks.
Those restrictions have been praised by community groups that believe the law will prevent megabars and keep South Baltimore from attracting the crowds and public nuisances of Fells Point.
After today, neighborhood leaders say their focus will switch to battling bars on Key Highway, where entrepreneurs envision a Gold Coast of restaurants, taverns and retail stores.