A Baltimore judge has ruled that the city liquor board acted improperly last year when it tried to shut down Suite Ultralounge, a "bottle club" in the Belvedere Hotel that sometimes draws a violent crowd and has long been at odds with its Mount Vernon neighbors.
In a Baltimore Circuit Court ruling filed Aug. 19 and released Monday, Judge Kaye Allison wrote that the liquor board must first establish rules about when to revoke the license of a bottle club before trying to close the Ultralounge. The liquor board revoked the club's license in November, but it has stayed open while the owner's attorney appealed.
Allison's decision, which comes more than three months after the appeal was filed, ensures that the Ultralounge will remain in business - for now.
As a result of the ruling, liquor board officials are drafting new policies that could enable them to close the club in the coming months.
"We didn't think we needed different regulations for one separate club," said board Chairman Stephan Fogleman. "This judge thinks we need them. The best thing we can do is create them immediately."
Fogleman said the new regulations will be introduced at a hearing in late September. Suite Ultralounge is the only "bring your own bottle" club in Baltimore. It is in the basement of the Belvedere, a historic condominium building on Chase Street.
In October, a stabbing and a double shooting outside drew the attention of community leaders and elected officials, who rallied to have Ultralounge shut down.
Even with a procedure for revoking bottle club licenses, it is unclear whether the board would be able to revoke Ultralounge's license based on earlier violations.
Fogleman said a more direct path to closure would be for the board to not renew the Ultralounge license when it comes up for annual review in November.
But Mayor Sheila Dixon said she wants the liquor board to act more quickly. "I just think it's only fair that something be done before that," she said.
She also called Allison's ruling "somewhat irresponsible."
"I'm really disappointed that this doesn't bring closure for the community," she said. "There have been too many violent incidents linked to this club. It's a nuisance and has not been a good neighbor. People have waited long enough."
The club will continue to host BYOB events on a regular basis. Its license allows patrons to bring their own bottles of beer, wine and liquor and consume them on the premises.
"It's certainly a victory," said Peter A. Prevas, who represents the club's owner, Louis V. Wood. "We won the battle, but not necessarily the war."