Liquor board fines downtown club Velvet Rope $3,500

Police, bar's owner reach deal on security plan after near riot during concert, shooting

March 25, 2010|By Brent Jones | Baltimore Sun reporter

Baltimore's liquor board on Thursday levied a $3,500 fine on a downtown nightclub after its owner pleaded guilty to security breaches that led to a near riot during a hip-hop concert last month.

Police had publicly petitioned to shut down Velvet Rope after that incident on Feb. 25 and a shooting authorities say spawned from a fight inside the club a week later. But Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and the bar's owner reached an agreement announced at the liquor board hearing, and Velvet Rope will operate under a new security plan and employ valet parking for certain events.

The deal also calls for the club's management to actively discourage illegal activity within or nearby the business in the 200 block of E. Redwood St. About 10 other minor liquor violations were postponed until May 1.

Asked why police reached an agreement with the club to remain open, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said: "The bottom line is we're concerned about violence. We're not concerned with putting people out of business, we're concerned with making them safer."

Paul W. Gardner, the club's lawyer, said he was disappointed with the amount of the fine but pleased he was able to find common ground with the Police Department.

Gardner said Velvet Rope was essentially punished twice for one incident. Liquor board chairman Stephan Fogleman said in his ruling that the club was being fined for two separate violations -- two counts of disorderly conduct -- although they both happened on the same night.

Velvet Rope opened last summer in the old Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co., a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to Gardner, Velvet Rope has lost business after the publicity generated from the incident, "but I am satisfied that the club will remain open," he said.

Police said it took 50 officers, including several from the tactical unit and assistance from a police helicopter, to control the crowd that showed up to hear Southern rapper Yo Gotti in February. The club's security sprayed mace inside the building to help control the crowd.

On March 5, police said two men who had been involved in a fight inside Velvet Rope were shot and wounded near the Inner Harbor. The shootings, which police say happened 2 1/2 blocks from the club, were captured by a surveillance camera, and one man was arrested.

The club was not cited by the liquor board for that incident.

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