New city liquor board chairman lets bar reopen, angering some residents

The Baltimore Sun
Councilwoman: "It's not only a bad decision. The way it was made is just as worrisome."

The new chairman of Baltimore's liquor board has allowed a bar in Waverly to reopen after serving less than half of a six-month suspension — a decision that has angered some local residents.

Benjamin Neil allowed the Stadium Lounge to reopen by signing a consent judgment that requires the owner to meet with community groups to reach an agreement about the bar's operations.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said the decision has angered residents who feel the bar is a nuisance, and she criticized Neil for acting without public notice or hearing.

"It's not only a bad decision. The way it was made is just as worrisome," Clarke said. "We found out about it [only] because the bar opened."

On May 14, the Greenmount Avenue bar was ordered to close for 180 days after police found illegal slot machines and witnessed payouts during a March investigation, records show.

The bar has been sanctioned by the board in the past, including in 2013, when it paid a $625 fine for selling alcohol to minors.

Neil declined to comment for this article, referring all questions to the liquor board's administrator, Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth. She noted that Neil acted after a lawyer for Stadium Lounge owner Domingo Kim said Kim was appealing the closure in court. In the meantime, the lawyer wrote, the suspension was causing economic hardship for Kim and the bar's employees.

"By not being able to fully operate its business during the suspension of its license, the Stadium Lounge and its employees have suffered severe economic hardship," lawyer Frank V. Boozer Jr. wrote. "Continuing the suspension is likely to result in Mr. Kim losing his total investment in the business and his employees losing their jobs."

Reached by phone Monday, Kim and Boozer declined to comment.

Bailey-Hedgepeth said when Neil acted, the Stadium Lounge had served 71 days of its suspension, one of the longest closures of any city bar in the past year.

Favorite's Pub in North Baltimore was one of the only bars closed longer, Bailey-Hedgepeth said. It was closed for about three months for allegedly serving alcohol to more than 100 underage patrons. The board later revoked its liquor license.

In the Stadium Lounge case, Kim is required to meet with community members to create a memorandum of understanding detailing how it will operate, according to the consent judgment filed in Baltimore circuit court July 24.

Clarke faulted Neil for not consulting with the community first.

"We already have [a memorandum of understanding] with Mr. Kim, which he has failed to honor for years," Clarke said. "Apparently, the chairman didn't know that."

Clarke and representatives of several community groups protested the decision at City Hall last week. The groups included the Charles Village Civic Association, Greater Homewood Community Corp., Better Waverly Community Organization, the Waverly Improvement Association, and the Oakenshawe Improvement Association.

Clarke said she wants the full six-month suspension restored and is exploring court appeal options.

Neil was sworn in as the board's chairman last month after being chosen by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

cjedra@baltsun.com

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