Club to end `college nights'

Underage drinking leads to $1,000 fine for Iguana Cantina

July 14, 2006|By LYNN ANDERSON | LYNN ANDERSON,SUN REPORTER

The owners of Iguana Cantina, a popular downtown Baltimore nightclub, told the city liquor board yesterday that they will stop hosting "college nights," alcohol-fueled events that are open to those 18 and older, because it became too difficult to police crowds for illegal alcohol consumption.

The club's owners appeared before the board to respond to accusations that two underage patrons were served alcohol there. Despite the owners' promise to end college night "forever," the board fined them $1,000 for serving beer to a 20-year-old Westminster man in January. The board threw out the other citation because of a lack of evidence.

"We mitigated the fine based on your decision to stop college night," said liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler. "We're glad that is going to happen."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section Friday stated that Iguana Cantina was fined by the Baltimore liquor board for serving alcohol to a 20-year-old man. In fact, the bar was fined because the underage man possessed alcohol on its premises.
The Sun regrets the error.

Iguana Cantina officials said they will end college night effective Aug. 17, a week before many college students return for the start of the fall semester.

Another downtown bar could follow suit. Baja Beach Club owner Sal DiGiorgio, who attended the Iguana Cantina hearing, said he is considering adopting a 21-and-over policy because it is "the right thing to do."

At the same hearing, lawyers representing the Cordish Co., which developed the Power Plant Live entertainment complex, told the board that they are working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to introduce legislation that would effectively prohibit such events statewide.

Power Plant Live banned college night events in March after the liquor board fined two clubs in the complex a total of $800 for serving alcohol to underage youths. One of the establishments, Bar Baltimore, has since closed.

The Cordish Co. lawyers attended the hearing to answer questions about a third alleged violation for underage drinking at Power Plant Live. Board members said they applauded the Cordish Co.'s efforts to put an end to underage drinking in the city, but they fined Power Plant Live $1,000 for permitting a 19-year-old woman to consume alcohol at Bar Baltimore in early February, shortly before it shut down.

"Tell your friends that Baltimore is off-limits to people under 21," Fosler told Kara Goodwin, now 20, who testified that she had a 21-year-old friend buy her a vodka sour at Bar Baltimore on Feb. 3. Goodwin also testified that the friend held the drink for her so that bar staff wouldn't notice that she was drinking and throw the beverage out.

The young woman's account of how she eluded detection is typical, said David Adams, the security manager at Iguana Cantina, which is located at 124 Market Place, about a block south of Power Plant Live. Adams' wife, Cheryl, holds the liquor license for the club and was also present for the hearing. Bar owner Tim Bennett was in attendance as well.

David Adams testified that he has posted two off-duty police officers at the restrooms at his club in order to ensure that underage patrons aren't doctoring their drinks with alcohol from miniature bottles they sneak into the bar. He said he also holds regular training seminars for his staff on how to recognize fake ID cards.

But in the end, he said, he and his partners decided to pull the plug on college night, a Thursday night ritual that attracted hundreds of youths from Towson University, University of Maryland, College Park, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and other local institutions. School buses have been hired to bring students in from as far away as Delaware and Pennsylvania.

"We will be 21 and over," Adams said. "And hopefully, I will never have to come before the liquor board again."

Bennett, who had vowed to continue hosting college night events, said yesterday that he felt his management team had done all they could to prevent underage drinking.

"You can't do any more than we were doing," he said.

Bennett said the same thing last year when the liquor board fined the club $2,500 for allowing underage patrons to consume alcohol on two occasions. The club appealed the decision in the state's Court of Special Appeals, but Bennett said yesterday that the case has yet to be decided.

Power Plant Live officials said they, too, have appealed the fines that they were assessed at the liquor board hearing in February.

They said that they would pay the $1,000 fine levied against Bar Baltimore yesterday since the club is no longer in existence.

Robert C. Fowler, a staff attorney for the Cordish Co., said he hopes to introduce statewide legislation during the 2007 General Assembly session prohibiting anyone under age 21 from entering a bar or tavern.

"I think it's going to have a good reception," he said.

Some jurisdictions have passed similar laws, but Baltimore has no such prohibition.

Liquor board Commissioner Edward Smith Jr., who has been outspoken about underage drinking, suggested that the state agency is also considering a change in local rules that would make it illegal for underage people to frequent city bars.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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