Residents decry `college nights'

Fells Point community dismayed by brawls, underage drinking

May 29, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Fells Point residents are calling for an end to the so-called college nights at Baltimore nightclubs.

Residents and some city officials said they are frustrated by brawls, public urination and underage drinking that is growing worse as more patrons ages 18 to 21 flock to the historic southeast Baltimore neighborhood on college nights.

In an effort to bolster sagging revenues, more and more nightclubs are holding college nights, usually on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, that allow patrons 18 to 21 to enter nightclubs in Baltimore to dance and socialize, but not to drink alcohol.

"Although Fells Point is generally safe, it is not the place I would want to walk down the street at 1: 45 in the morning," said Lt. Timothy O'Connell, of the Southeastern District. "You would be amazed at what goes on down there" on college nights.

One tragic example occurred shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday, when a 22-year-old Harford County man was fatally stabbed in the 700 block of S. Broadway. Police believe Derek Gregory Mason was stabbed in the neck after he left a college night event at the Fells Point Cafe/Club 723.

Mason's family said he frequently traveled from Havre de Grace to Baltimore to attend nightclubs. Police have not linked the crime to the college night crowds. But homicide detectives believe the assailant was in his late teens or early 20s.

"It is quite wild down there; I saw a lot of kids who were intoxicated doing crazy things," said homicide Detective Irvin Bradley, who canvassed Fells Point Thursday night, handing out fliers seeking information on Mason's death.

City liquor board officials said they'll push for state legislation that would prohibit people younger than 21 from entering establishments where liquor is sold. Maryland has no minimum age limit for entering a bar or nightclub, but patrons are not permitted to drink alcohol unless they are 21.

"I don't like it. You are playing with fire any time you let anyone under 21 in a place that serves alcohol," said Leonard Skolnik, chairman of the city Board of Liquor License Commissioners. "It causes a lot of problems, but there is nothing the board can do about it."

In response to the concerns, Del. Cornell N. Dypski, a Southeast Baltimore Democrat whose district includes Fells Point, said he would introduce legislation in the next General Assembly to prohibit anyone younger than 21 from entering bars or nightclubs in the city.

"I just think it has to be under the control of the liquor board because it can run out of control, and it looks like it is starting to happen," Dypski said.

He said his office has been inundated with calls recently from concerned residents and merchants who believe police have been unable to protect their property on college nights.

"These kids don't care -- public urination, destruction of cars [and] property, and now this [homicide]," said Jack Trautwein, the owner of P. J.'s Place, a card shop on Lancaster Street in Fells Point.

Nearly a dozen Baltimore nightclubs hold weekly college night parties, including Bohager's in Fells Point and Baja Beach Club, and The Lava Lounge at the Inner Harbor -- all of which have resulted in numerous complaints, police and liquor board officials said.

Liquor board officials said Club 723, in the same block where Masson was stabbed to death, has been particularly troublesome.

"Seven-twenty-three appears to be the worst of the college nights," said Samuel T. Daniels Jr., chief inspector at the liquor board. "For the past year, you could feel something building -- a bad combination of age and culture on college night there."

Mark Bernstein, manager of Club 723, defended the weekly college night. He said the nightclub requires all minors to wear wristbands, and it uses security cameras and more than a dozen guards to keep order.

Daniels said, however, that many of the underage patrons arrive at Club 723 and other nightclubs already intoxicated.

Bernstein said Club 723 has been forced to sponsor college night, which he said accounts for 10 percent of the club's income, because it has been losing patrons to new establishments elsewhere.

He also said most major cities -- including Washington, Atlanta and New York -- permit 18-year-olds to enter nightclubs but not to drink.

Michael Beckner, president of the Fells Point Food and Beverage Association, said he would oppose efforts to eliminate college nights, but admitted that some nightclubs are "a problem."

Beckner said violence could be prevented if bars and nightclubs could remain open for two hours after they stop serving alcohol. The 4 a.m. closing time would result in patrons leaving at staggered times, he said. But special zoning, which none of the Fells Point clubs have, is required for them to remain open past 4 a.m.

"You are putting 500 kids out in the street at one time. That is the problem, not the college nights," Beckner said.

Liquor board officials said they supported a similar measure two years ago, but it died in the General Assembly because of opposition from the state's powerful liquor lobby.

Dypski said that his Fells Point constituents are clamoring for something to be done. "These kids are not going in these places to drink Cokes all the time," he said.

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