Inner Harbor neighbors seek to stop the Tiki Barge from reopening

Complaining of lewd behavior, neighbors say the floating nightclub is something out of 'Jersey Shore'

  • The Tiki Barge opened last summer along Baltimore's Inner Harbor to flood of customers, but also complaints.
The Tiki Barge opened last summer along Baltimore's Inner… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
March 02, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

When the Tiki Barge opened early last summer, crowds flocked to the new club, soaking in the novelty of a pool party on the Patapsco. Yet for Tiki Barge's neighbors in high-priced condos like HarborView and the Ritz Carlton, the novelty quickly became a nuisance.

They say the bar is more "Jersey Shore" than Inner Harbor. They complain about the noise, the public urination and frat-party-like antics that include the highjacking of a Harborview Marina golf cart and driving it onto Key Highway. They even have photos of someone on the barge urging a woman in a passing speedboat to flash her breasts.

As a second summer season approaches, dozens of them will appeal to the city's liquor board Thursday to revoke the bar's license before it has a chance to reopen in May.

"We're a secluded community. We pay a lot of money to live in this community. The foot traffic goes right through this neighborhood to that establishment, and it's young, loud kids," said Jim Porter, one of the more than 40 neighbors who signed a petition against the bar in December.

The bar's supporters, some 800 of whom signed an online petition of their own, dismiss the tension as nothing more than a culture clash.

"I don't have a problem going in and meeting with the community," said Bud Craven, the bar's manager. "If there's a problem, I'll fix it. I just don't think they like the young crowd."

Craven opened the Tiki on Memorial Day of last year after spending several months renovating it.

"He completely transformed it from a rust bucket into a beautiful tiki barge," said Dan Naor, a partner at Baltimore Marine Centers, the company that runs the marina and owns the barge, Tabrizi's Restaurant and Sorso Cafe.

But the people who live here, who prize the serenity that comes with real estate that can start at half a million dollars, started taking note of the transgressions of the bar's young patrons.

In the long, Bible-thick petition more than 40 neighbors filed with the board in December, one complainant noted seeing patrons "trampling a flower bed in the residential area."

The petition also accuses the bar's patrons of accosting neighbors, illegally parking on driveways, destruction of property, causing traffic jams, and "simulated sex with a potted palm tree."

The smoking gun in the petition is a photograph from August that shows a bosomy, curly-haired brunette baring her breasts, apparently in exchange for beads.

The man who took the picture, Federal Hill resident Paul Quinn, came to the bar with family to watch the Ravens-Giants game, and, in a letter to the liquor board, described the scene as "wild and drunken." "Many of the patrons reminded me of the characters on the reality show, 'Jersey Shore,'" he wrote.

But he said he wasn't sure what he saw that Saturday was routine. He doesn't live in the area, and has only been to the barge three times.

Craven said the complaints are "unfair or untrue" and that the nudity incidents were isolated events.

"We don't encourage anything like that," he said.

He also said that to assuage some neighbors' complaints, he's hired an off-duty police officer to patrol the area weekdays and weekends.

Despite the list of grievances, the Tiki Barge has not become a concern for law enforcement.

The Southern District describes the area as generally "quiet," police spokesman Donny Moses said, and the police activity has been car stops.

In the eight months since it's opened, only two 311 calls have been made to complain about the bar, the latest dating from September, according to liquor board.

Stephan Fogleman, chairman of the liquor board, said a bar's license can be revoked if there's a preponderance of evidence demonstrating a threat to the safety, health and welfare of the community. In the past, bars have also been suspended for their patrons' behavior.

He added, though, he has not made a decision about the bar and hasn't looked at the petition yet.

Another complaint in the petition centers on a technicality over the liquor license, which signatories say covers only Tabrizi's Restaurant and Sorso Cafe. This is one of the questions that will be addressed at Thursday's hearing.

The marina, which owns the property, supports Craven. Naor said suggestions that the Tiki Barge encourages lewd behavior is "100 percent not true."

He said that incident of the woman who exposed her breasts happened only once and that the stolen golf cart was part of a prank and never left the marina.

"The real story is that some people who live here do not recognize this is a public street and people have a right to come to the marina," Naor said.

erik.maza@baltsun.com

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