Raids target underage drinking

Liquor inspectors, police continuing to check clubs that cater to college-age students

September 21, 2006|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Baltimore liquor board inspectors and police swarmed a South Baltimore dance club early yesterday as part of an ongoing effort to stamp out underage drinking at events that cater to college-age students.

While authorities said they found no obvious violations at Club Mate in Brooklyn, officials vowed to continue with the raids until "college nights" have ended. "We have to stay on top of this," said Baltimore liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler.

Inspectors say part of the problem is that underage patrons are allowed in bars as long as they don't drink, making laws governing illegal drinking difficult to enforce.

Fosler said the liquor board is considering adopting a rule that would make it illegal for those younger than 21 to enter a bar unless they are employees or accompanied by a parent or guardian.

"For years, the liquor board had not done a good job of addressing underage drinking," he said. "It's not like it is going to change overnight, but we have to be consistent and apply enough resources to ensure that licensees are doing the right thing."

Fosler said he would continue his tough stance on underage drinking despite recent announcements by Power Plant Live! and Iguana Cantina that they would ban college-night events. The liquor board fined both venues this year for allowing underage patrons to drink at college-themed events.

In their stead, other clubs have stepped up.

In recent weeks, police and liquor board officials have investigated several new college-night events. In late August, vice officers showed up at a college-themed event at Club One, 300 E. Saratoga St. -- "this year's official college night," according to the venue's Web site -- and charged a number of youths with underage drinking, according to the liquor board.

Police were set to return to the club Sept. 7, joined this time by liquor inspectors, but wound up at the Latin Palace in Fells Point, where the event had been moved. That same night, police and liquor inspectors also visited Uncle Lee's China Room at 44 South St., where a University of Maryland, Baltimore County fraternity was holding a party.

Police charged more than a dozen youths with underage drinking and identification-card violations.

Liquor board officials say they believe that party promoters, often college students or recent graduates, have come up with names for college-night events as well as different dates -- historically such parties have been held Thursdays -- in an effort to avoid trouble.

The event at Club Mate on Tuesday, which was patronized almost exclusively by students from Towson University, was called "Bid Day," which is the official end of the Greek system's rush period. The party was organized by Paul Pitcher and Christopher Oddo, two well-known Baltimore promoters who also set up the Club One and Latin Palace events.

Pitcher said he is a Towson University student, and Oddo said he is a recent graduate.

Pitcher, son of Annapolis lobbyist and attorney J. William Pitcher, has declined several requests for interviews. Oddo, who is president of Ulife Network, a company that sets up Web sites for college students, spoke to a reporter at the Club Mate event.

"I don't think people who are under 21 should drink," said Oddo, referring to the elaborate security system he, Pitcher and Club Mate owner Vu Huynh set up for the Bid Day event.

According to Oddo and Club Mate security officials interviewed by The Sun, patrons younger than 21 had to stay on the club's first floor, and those 21 and older were allowed upstairs to the VIP lounge, where beer and other alcoholic beverages were served.

Oddo said he regretted that underage youths had been served at Club One and Latin Palace.

He said he added personnel for the Club Mate party to guard against security lapses. "It was upsetting to me," Oddo said, referring to the underage drinking. "It's not a good thing."

Chief Liquor Inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr. said he was pleased with security measures at Club Mate. Of the promoters, he said: "They got it right tonight, but they have to get it right every night."

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