Club Choices owner is penalized by liquor board for law violations

Drinking and locked exits are noted as problems

October 24, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore liquor board yesterday ordered the owner of two late-night North Charles Street establishments criticized as a neighborhood nuisance to accept a suspension or fine and take steps to curb illegal drinking.

Leonard R. Skolnik, chairman of the board, had harsh words for Anthony D. Triplin, owner of Trip's Place and Club Choices. Describing his reaction to an Aug. 3 Sun article about the business' impact on the neighborhood, he said he was "gravely concerned" and "outraged and perplexed."

The newspaper reported that a crowd lingering outside until dawn on the weekend brings noise, traffic, garbage and crime and undermines redevelopment goals in the city's fledgling arts and entertainment district.

Triplin and his attorneys declined to comment after yesterday's hearing.

Choices, at 1815-1817 N. Charles St., is one of three clubs in the city with licenses to stay open all night. Choices has had strip shows twice a week. Although it cannot sell liquor or allow patrons to bring their own, it is connected by a door to Trip's Place, which serves drinks until 2 a.m.

The liquor board gave Triplin 15 days to get rid of the door and any other passageway between the two establishments. Otherwise, Skolnik said, the board will suspend Triplin's liquor license indefinitely. The board ordered Triplin to start closing Trip's Place -- not just shutting the bar -- at 2 a.m.

During more than three hours of testimony, a liquor board inspector said he found patrons bringing alcoholic beverages from the licensed Trip's to the unlicensed Choices on Aug. 3 -- a practice Skolnik prohibited during a 1998 hearing that did not result in any punishment.

Triplin testified that he has a security guard at all times guarding the door between Trip's and Choices to prevent alcohol from passing through. Nevertheless, Skolnik said, "there isn't any question in our minds that what we've got here is an illegal expansion of Trip's [Place] into Club Choices."

The board also gave Triplin a choice between an $800 fine or an eight-day suspension of his liquor license, finding him guilty on charges of illegally locking exit doors and illegal drinking.

On May 9, a fire inspector closed Choices and Trip's for the night after finding fire exits bolted or padlocked on the inside for two weeks in a row.

"If there was a fire in that building, everybody in that building would've died," city police Lt. John Bailey testified, describing what he saw the first week.

Triplin testified that the doors were not locked from the inside.

Nathan C. Irby Jr., the liquor board's executive secretary who has a long-standing friendship with Triplin, did not attend the hearing.

Skolnik denied a request from Triplin's attorneys that he recuse himself from the hearing because of comments he made to The Sun this summer. He said in a prepared statement:

"When I receive reports that the rights of citizens are being infringed upon ... my blood boils. When I hear that licenses are misused, and such misuses are the direct cause of extreme and constant noise, traffic congestion, litter and other more serious crimes, and that the result of this is detrimental to the city's effort to revitalize an important area, I am gravely concerned.

"When I hear that fire exit doors are locked ... I am outraged and perplexed. When I learn that parishioners of a nearby church must act as a cleanup crew on Sunday morning before the premises is fit to hold services, I frankly don't know what I am."

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