Fire at troubled Curtis Bay bar being investigated as an arson T-Bear Lounge damage is more than $200,000

police have no suspects

November 12, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

An early-morning fire at a well-known but troubled Curtis Bay bar over the weekend is being investigated as an arson, authorities confirmed yesterday.

T-Bear Lounge and Restaurant in the 3700 block of Pennington Ave. suffered more than $200,000 in damage. The club had been for sale for weeks before firefighters were called shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday.

Neighbors smelled smoke as early as 2 a.m. Saturday, but despite the proximity of several homes to the club, police said bTC they have few leads and no suspects in the two-alarm fire.

T-Bear's -- which has been known as the Hot Spot, Spuds, and other names -- has long been a flash point for community anger over bars. Much of that anger has focused on Theodore B. "Bear" Sanford Jr., the on-again, off-again owner of the establishment, who has tried to bring adult entertainment to the bar.

"This location has been nothing but trouble, and I can't see anything changing," Gloria Sipes, a former officer of Curtis Bay Community Association, wrote last year in one of a flurry of resident appeals to the liquor board.

T-Bear is licensed to Sanford's wife, Mary Sue Sanford, 58, according to city records.

In an interview with The Sun this spring, Theodore Sanford, 57, said the bar was in financial trouble because of restrictions -- including an inability to secure permission for adult entertainment -- imposed on him by the liquor board. He blamed "a small group of neighbors" for forcing the limits on him.

The building's exterior appears undamaged, but the interior, according to those who have seen it, is badly charred. The fire caused $150,000 in damage to the structure and $65,000 to materials inside.

Liquor board records show that the Sanfords, pleading financial difficulty, have made repeated efforts to expand their business -- even when their liquor license didn't permit it. Records show that over the years, they brought in go-go girls and male strippers, and stayed open past their approved closing time. On occasion, Theodore Sanford has transferred the license briefly to others.

But those efforts have brought rebuke from the board, which has held nearly a dozen hearings on the bar since 1990. Two investigations of the bar were conducted in 1992. The bar has been the target of consistent criticism by public officials, such as state Sen. George W. Della Jr. and former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

"It was at its worst four years ago," says Duane E. Tressler, a neighbor and local historian. "It was a real problem then, with fights almost every night."

Neighbors and firefighters said they recalled at least three fires at the bar over the past decade, but fire records on T-Bear's were not available yesterday.

Neighbors say that over the years, the only relief from late-night noise and disturbances has come at times such as this fall, when business at the bar is slow.

"We have a new baby in the house, and lately it's been very quiet," said Kathleen Brison, 20, who lives 30 feet from the bar. "But I think that's because business hasn't been too good."

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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