Liquor board shuts down troubled bar in Northeast

June 23, 2007|By Julie Turkewitz | Julie Turkewitz,sun reporter

Sparked by complaints from politicians and neighborhood residents, the city liquor board suspended the liquor license of a Northeast Baltimore nightspot and set a 90-day deadline for the transfer of the license to a new location.

The board's action was the climax of a long-standing battle neighborhood residents waged against the Cameo Restaurant in the 4700 block of Harford Road. Neighbors complained for years about the bar's loud music and its patrons, who blocked driveways and urinated in the streets. Two violations - one related to the bar's disturbances in the neighborhood, the second related to a lack of cooperation with officials - prompted the liquor board to suspend Cameo's license, according to liquor board documents. While it's not uncommon for the board to suspend a liquor license, it is rare that the board takes such an extreme action as to suspend the license until the owner transfers it, essentially closing down the bar forever, said chief liquor inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr.

"It was just overwhelming that there was a problem there and that the most extreme method was the way to rectify it," said Daniels.

Cameo is now closed, said Daniels. The owner of the license, Wayne Hill, has 90 days to transfer it. He can either sell it - the most likely option - or seek to set up shop somewhere else with the same license. Daniels said it's unlikely the board would allow Hill to use the license anywhere else, given his record on Harford Road.

For years, residents have been sending the board letters complaining that the bar doesn't belong in such a residential area. In April, a man was shot to death outside the restaurant.

It's been the site of other violent incidents, including a 2002 triple shooting.

Cameo, which takes up the bottom floor of a three-story building, was once a "typical neighborhood bar," according to Michael Brands, a 10-year resident and a member of the Moravia-Walther Neighborhood Association. But in recent years its clientele has swelled, and there is a shortage of parking, causing problems for neighbors, said Brands.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and a number of state delegates wrote letters to the board calling for the bar to close down.

At a hearing Thursday the board found the bar in violation of two rules. The first mandates that licensees operate their establishment in a way that does not disturb the peace and health of the surrounding community. The board said that between May 23, 2006, and May 23, 2007, it received residents' letters, police reports and inspectors reports that cited loud music, public urination, fighting and shouting, among other disturbances.

The second rule requires that licensees cooperate when officials stop by for inspection. According to board documents, police appeared at Cameo on Jan. 28 and found a disorderly crowd and patrons drinking outside the establishment - and the manager told police they had to leave.

Hill's lawyer, Gary Maslan, said Hill is exploring all of his options, including the possibility of appealing the decision. Attempts to reach Hill were unsuccessful.

There is also a chance a new establishment could set up at the same Harford Road location. But this is also unlikely, said Daniels, given the overwhelming community opposition to Cameo. The board's decision will likely bring an end to a long history of liquor-vending at this spot on Harford Road.

The location has had a liquor license since 1937, when it was Cameo Cut Rate Liquor Store. Since then, it's had a slew of different owners and taken on multiple names, including The Rainbow Room, Cameo House, The Rocket and Scotty's Sports Bar. It's still sometimes called Cameo Lounge.

"We're really happy that the liquor board heard our concerns," said Brands. The association has wanted the bar shut down "for at least five years."

julie.turkewitz@baltsun.com

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