Board approves late-night club

Despite police opposition, lounge may operate until 4 a.m. on weekends

May 24, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore zoning board approved the city's fourth legal after-hours club yesterday, despite last-minute opposition from police.

On a 4-1 vote, the Board of Zoning and Municipal Appeals granted The China Room, at South and East Lombard streets, permission to stay open until 4 a.m. on weekends, serving food and playing recorded music.

"I think this lays the groundwork for the city to open its eyes to new concepts and new ideas," said John A. Giorgilli, operator of the China Room, which is at Uncle Lee's Szechuan Restaurant.

Giorgilli initially sought to remain open until 5: 30 a.m. on weekends. The board approved the plan with the provisions that the club close at 4 a.m. and that it not permit live bands to perform. Alcohol will not be served after 2 a.m.

The vote followed a sometimes testy exchange between some board members and Sgt. Craig Gentile, commander of the Central District's vice squad.

Baltimore police initially raised no objections to Giorgilli's plans, but Gentile said police commanders reversed their decision. "The current administration does not support any after-hours establishments being added to the current three," he told the board.

Gentile said police commanders are worried they do not have enough staff to patrol nightclubs that close at staggered hours and prefer that they all close at 2 a.m. He also said the clubs would lead to an increase in crime and help spread the popular drug ecstasy, which has been associated with all-night entertainment.

Benjamin A. Neil, chairman of the zoning board, dismissed Gentile's arguments and said the Police Department's staffing levels should not dictate the city's late-night entertainment policy. "I don't think because of urban problems we can shut down [the city] and turn it off," Neil said.

Courtney J. McKeldin was the only board member to oppose the China Room's request. She said Baltimore "is not a 24-hour city" and that other cities that have allowed nightclubs to stay open until dawn are rethinking the policy.

The zoning board postponed hearings scheduled for yesterday on after-hours permit applications from the Lava Lounge, a nightclub on Pier 4 at the Inner Harbor, and Ultrasonic Inc., a proposed alcohol-free dance hall in the 400 block of E. Saratoga St.

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