Bars opt to stop targeting students

Fells Point business group agrees to phase `college night' events

`We are shifting our focus'

June 07, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Fells Point bar and restaurant owners plan to phase out college nights and cheap-drink specials, in an attempt to stamp out the community's fraternity-party image.

After weeks of criticism, Fells Point Food and Beverage Association members agreed to stop promoting their establishments as a haven for younger partygoers, said Michael Beckner, president of the group, which represents more than 40 area bars and restaurants.

"We are shifting our focus," Beckner said. "We are looking at doing things that will attract more of the tourists, more corporate types and a crowd of 25 or older."

Along with eliminating college nights and drink specials that target young adults, Beckner said the group plans to hire a marketing firm to plan events and boost the image of the area's nightlife for an over-25 clientele.

He said "95 percent" of the roughly 40 or so liquor-serving establishments in Fells Point agreed to the new marketing campaign at a meeting Monday.

Several of the larger clubs - such as Bohager's and the Fells Point CafM-i/Club 723 - regularly sponsor college nights, where 18- to 21-year-olds are permitted to dance but not drink alcohol. State law prohibits anyone under 21 from drinking alcohol, but there is no age limit for entering an establishment that serves liquor.

For years, teen-agers and people in their 20s have flocked to the Southeast Baltimore waterfront community's bars and nightclubs. But residents have complained that the young age of the crowd has contributed to brawls, public urination, excessive noise and vandalized property.

The rowdy image is driving away tourists and older patrons that many businesses say they need to survive, officials said.

"It has just gotten to a nonhealthy atmosphere," Beckner said. "We are making the first step and taking a drastic move."

The plan met with mixed reaction from residents and business owners, but they said something has to change.

"If we don't stop college night, we are likely to turn Fells Point into the drinking hall of Baltimore City and destroy whatever potential this area has to contribute," he said Stelios Spiliadis, the owner of the Black Olive restaurant.

Bohager's, the largest nightclub in Fells Point, will hold its last college night event tomorrow, said club owner Damian Bohager. The club bills its college night as the largest in Baltimore and attracts up to 2,000 patrons on Thursday nights.

"Let's start changing the whole face of Fells Point," Bohager said. "Let's start marketing to an older crowd and try to get rid of the kids starting all the problems."

The club is in the process enclosing part of its outdoor facility to shield its neighbors from noise - after the city liquor board fined the establishment $3,000 last week and ordered it closed for three days because of noise violations.

Bohager's lawyer, Melvin Kodenski, appealed the liquor board decision Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court. A hearing has not been scheduled. Besides Bohager's, Beckner said the Fells Point CafM-i/Club 723 has also agreed to phase out its college night, which city officials complain is among the most troublesome. Club 723 owners did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Katy Greene-Davis, the president of the Fells Point Homeowners'Association, questioned whether Bohager's pledge to eliminate college night would put an end to the problems.

"She said she was more concerned about the noise from Bohager's than the age of the clientele. "I just don't won't to hear [the club] four blocks away," Greene-Davis said.

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