Milan looks like a nightclub, city says

An advertisement for a Memorial Day weekend event at Milan. A similar ad is attached to an affidavit for a civil case in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City (May 31, 2012)

A city agency is apparently persuaded that Milan looks, swims, and quacks so much like a nightclub that it's probably a nightclub. But, it says, Milan has no business being one.

The establishment's opponents from the get-go have claimed that Milan was a nightclub masquerading as a restaurant, and they’ve repeatedly pressed the Baltimore City Liquor License Board to take action. And while the liquor board has historically been the agency to discipline and sanction license-holding establishments, it appears that a new city agency has stepped into the fray.

The Department of Housing and Community Development is asking for a court order against Milan that could bring dancing days to a halt at 1000 Eastern Avenue. That hearing is scheduled for Thursday, after the department on May 24 moved for a temporary restraining order against Milan that would not allow it to provide any form of live entertainment and to cancel all of the promotions it had advertised for the Memorial Day weekend.

An affidavit entered by the plaintiffs for Thursday's hearing says that Milan's Little Italy property isn't zoned for what Milan is using it for, namely live entertainment. The affidavit summarizes an undercover visit by a zoning inspector who had to pay a $40 "double cover charge" to enter Milan and observed dancing and disc jockeys playing live music on both the first and second floor. "The music stopped only," the affidavit says, "when there was a fight on the first floor that necessitated the dispersal of the patrons in Milan."

The court submission also includes copies of recent advertisements in which the establishment bills itself as "The New Milan Lounge." What Milan doesn't appear to be, the city says, is what it's supposed to be, namely a restaurant: "None of the advertisements mention food or menus; only two of the advertisements show a small picture of several place settings."

The score up to now has been about even. Just months after its January 2010 opening, Milan survived an attempt by a neighborhood group to have its liquor license voided.  But in February of this year, Milan was hit with $3,000 in fines for a slew of violations, including failing to avoid disturbing the peace and selling alcohol to a minor, not to mention a rodent infestation and unsanitary conditions. And on April 12, Milan had its license suspended by the board for one week although it has remained open pending appeal.