City May Get More Entertaining

Under Bill, Restaurants Where Music, Dance Illegal Could Get License

April 26, 2009|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,sam.sessa@baltsun.com

For years, customers at the trendy Harbor East restaurant Pazo could get up and dance if they liked the house music.

That stopped about 18 months ago, when city officials threatened to shut down the restaurant if the dancing continued, according to co-owner Tony Foreman. Pazo operates in a B-2 business district, where live entertainment is not allowed. Technically, when Foreman's patrons got up and danced, it was considered live entertainment. Foreman was shocked.

"We were warned that playing music and people getting up and dancing to music - we're talking about grown-ups dancing to a little bit of music after dinner - is illegal and we'd be shut down and lose our [liquor] license," he said. "If you want to dance after dinner, you're going to jail."

A new bill sponsored by City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake could change that. The legislation, which is scheduled for a committee hearing Thursday, would allow live entertainment in city districts where it was previously illegal.

"I'm trying to come up with a vehicle to change the way we do business in the city - to really open the door for more live entertainment and an increased quality of life," Rawlings-Blake said.

As it stands, taverns and restaurants can only have live entertainment if they are in the proper city zones. They include B-3 through B-5 business districts and, conditionally, M-1 and M-2 industrial districts.

This bill would allow taverns in B-2 and restaurants - such as Pazo - in B-1 and B-2 zones to apply for a live entertainment license with the Board of Municipal & Zoning Appeals and the Board of Liquor License Commissioners. If approved by both, they could then hold live entertainment events.

"Live entertainment" is a broad-reaching term that includes musical and theatrical performances, magic shows, karaoke, DJs, dances and revues. It does not affect adult entertainment licenses.

B-1 and B-2 zones are scattered throughout the city, and cover Belvedere Square, parts of Harbor East and also Main Street areas in neighborhoods such as Lauraville.

Rawlings-Blake introduced the bill last July, and asked for input from bar and club owners and neighborhood residents. She held a series of community work sessions and unofficial discussions with communities and club owners.

Originally, the bill had drastically different intentions. Until it was modified late last week, the legislation nearly tripled the size of the area where live entertainment was allowed, issued permits to all businesses that wanted to hold live entertainment and formed a five-member Board of Live Entertainment to regulate the industry.

But budget constraints and opposition from neighborhood associations and local club owners made Rawlings-Blake decide to redraft the bill.

Local musicians such as singer/songwriter Kristin Putchinski - who was originally against the bill - are pleased with the new legislation. Putchinski, who performs under the name Ellen Cherry, lives in Hamilton. The new version of the legislation would open up a large portion of the neighborhood along Harford Road for live entertainment.

"This is a great thing for my neighborhood," Putchinski said. "As a musician, having more places to play can only be a positive thing."

Brian Shupe, who owns The 8x10, a live music club in South Baltimore, was one of many venue owners who attended the session and protested the fees and regulations the original bill imposed.

Under the new version of the bill, The 8x10 and any other venues currently offering live entertainment would not have to pay any more licensing fees than they do now.

"This bill is supposed to create more venues, so it's going to be more competition," Shupe said. "But the fact that they are exempting us means a lot."

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