Judge backs liquor board

Fells Point club ordered to begin 20-day closure today

License was suspended

Owner fears financial hardship but intends to reopen, lawyer says

February 15, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The Fells Point Cafe/Club 723 must shut its doors starting today after a judge upheld yesterday a 20-day license suspension imposed by the liquor board.

Neighbors and police have long complained about the operation of the club at 723 S. Broadway, which is known for inviting patrons 18 and older for "college night," and offering promotions like 25-cent bottles of beer.

The interruption in business might force owner Thomas Hicks to close the popular club for good, his lawyer said in court.

"Closure for 20 days will put my client into bankruptcy," argued Gary R. Maslan, Hicks' lawyer. "The effect on him would be absolutely disastrous. It would be a severe economic hardship."

But Maslan said later in an interview that Hicks wouldn't give up.

"Their hope is they'll be able to survive and reopen," he said. "It is not their intent to voluntarily fade into the sunset."

The Board of Liquor License Commissioners suspended Hicks' liquor license this month based on two police raids in which officers found the club selling alcohol to dozens of minors. The commission also fined him $5,125 after hearing testimony from several minors who said they were served alcohol there.

Hicks appealed the decision in Baltimore Circuit Court, and yesterday asked the court if he could stay open during the appeal process.

Judge John N. Prevas denied the request based on the testimony of Nathan C. Irby Jr., executive secretary of the liquor board.

"The charges brought before the commission were egregious," Irby told the court. "And the commission is committed to upholding the quality of life in Fells Point."

Prevas denied Hicks' request for a stay of Irby's order, saying he agreed with Irby.

"Mr. Irby says this poses a clear and present danger to society and that a stay would undermine public confidence in the liquor board," Prevas said.

Neighbors in Fells Point say they have had problems with club patrons loitering, urinating outdoors, making noise and jeopardizing public safety.

Community anger increased after a 32-year-old man from West Baltimore was fatally shot in October after leaving the club.

"If he goes out of business, that's tough luck," said Dominik Eckenstein, president of the Fells Point Business Association and owner of the Admiral Fell Inn. "Warnings were given, discussions were held. This is overdue."

After the shooting, Hicks met with community leaders, business owners and police and got a verbal lashing from them. He tentatively agreed to a dress code, to raise the age limit for patrons and to train bouncers, among other steps.

He was told by police he needed to discourage "hoodlums" from congregating, or officers would arrest crowds that gather outside the club.

Southeast District Maj. Zeinab Rabold told Hicks a dress code, namely banning sneakers, would help the situation.

"Sneakers bring in the bad guys," she told him in October. "They wear sneakers for one reason: to run from us. I'm not kidding you."

But Hicks didn't follow through with the agreement, community leaders say.

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