Bel Air’s 510 Johnnys was fined $8,000 and slapped with a four-day suspension of its liquor license — starting in January — Wednesday after the Harford County Liquor Control Board determined the establishment’s operators were responsible for multiple liquor law violations.
Many of the issues, such as disorderly patrons, underage drinking, fights and intoxicated drivers leaving the premises, stem from the establishment’s popular College Night, according to testimony at a nearly two-hour show cause hearing Wednesday afternoon and evening at the liquor board headquarters in Bel Air.
Bel Air Police Department officers who testified said College Night has put a strain on their manpower, with extra officers working overtime Thursday night and Friday morning, and made it difficult to cover the rest of Bel Air during those hours.
“All of law enforcement in Harford County is aware of 510 Johnnys on Thursday nights,” Bel Air Police Cpl. Donald Ravadge said during the hearing.
College Night has ended as of this week, restaurant representatives and their attorney, Peter A. Prevas of Baltimore, pledged at the hearing. Nicholas Tsirlis, part owner and the liquor licensee, confirmed that in a follow-up interview Thursday.
“There is no College Night, there is no specials tonight, nothing,” he said.
Tsirlis said Thursday will be a “regular dinner night,” and patrons will be “double-carded.” Security will check their IDs at the door, and they will be checked again by servers or bartenders.
“We don’t need that College Night anymore,” Tsirlis said. “It created a lot of problems and issues in the community.”
The liquor board determined 510 Johnnys violated four regulations, including failing to operate in a manner to “avoid disturbing the peace, safety, health, quiet and general welfare of the community,” failing to comply with standards for checking patrons’ identification, failing to prevent the sale of alcohol to underage patrons and selling alcohol to people “visibly” intoxicated, according to board documents.
The board voted 4-0 in favor of each charge — Commissioner Frederic Merchant was absent — assigning a $2,000 fine to each of the four charges, according to liquor board administrator Pilar Gracia.
The board also issued a one-day liquor license suspension for each charge. The suspension will be in effect from Jan. 4 to Jan. 7, 2018, in recognition of scheduled holiday events at 510 Johnnys, Gracia said.
“The board decided benevolently to start the suspension after the beginning of the year,” she said Thursday.
The issues centered around the Thursday College Night were laid out in detail during Wednesday’s hearing.
Inspector Louis E. Reichart listed incidents that happened between Feb. 17 and Aug. 25 during College Night and required a police or fire and EMS response. Some incidents required a response from multiple Bel Air officers and others required backup from Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Maryland State Police troopers, according to Reichart’s report.
Many of the incidents, which happened in the 510 Johnnys parking lot along Marketplace Drive, included disorderly people, heavily intoxicated people, fights, large crowds, security staff assaulting patrons, underage patrons with fake IDs and intoxicated drivers, who said they were drinking at 510 Johnnys, pulled over at police DUI checkpoints in other parts of Harford County, Reichart said.
Noise complaints, underage drinking, assaults by security and two alcohol overdoses have been reported on other nights, as well, he said.
He testified that when he inspected the establishment, bartenders were serving patrons who “in my opinion, should not have been served any more alcoholic drinks.”
Reichart said he talked with security personnel on Feb. 17 who said they were new and had no training on spotting a fake ID. Security had been improved by the time of visits made in April and June — he witnessed in April security telling underage patrons who arrived before College Night started at 9 p.m. that they had to leave once they finished their meals, and staff later escorted those patrons out, he said. He said two fake IDs were confiscated the same night and several other people were turned away because security could not verify their licenses.
Peter Yaffe, a consultant with Capitol Hospitality Solutions in Alexandria, Va., testified he has worked with 510 Johnnys to scale back College Night, including changing the tone of the music, improving security and implementing a dress code, bag searches to ensure no one brings in alcohol and a cover charge for non-college students.
“We made a determination that College Night was not just bad for the community but bad for our business,” Yaffe said.
Nearly 10 Bel Air Police Department officers who have dealt with incidents between February and August testified.
Several officers said police have still dealt with College Night issues this fall, even after 510 Johnnys’ operators scaled back the events and improved security.
“Everybody is expected [at 510 Johnnys] on a Thursday night for closing time,” Officer Keith Smithson said. “Any Bel Air Police unit that is working is expected to be in the parking lot over there because of past issues.”
Sheriff’s Office deputies have to deal on Thursdays with drunk and disorderly patrons at the Denny’s restaurant in Edgewood, patrons who came from 510 Johnnys, Bel Air Police Cpl. Donald Ravadge said.
He noted the problems at 510 Johnnys usually happen on Thursdays, and that things are much quieter the rest of the week.
“It’s very abnormal,” he said. “You see a very large spike on Thursday night.”
Ravadge said most of Bel Air’s other establishments have “a typical bar crowd” and “minor issues,” but “not to the level and the frequency as it occurs at 510 Johnnys on Thursday night, specifically.”
Smithson said officers who work the shift ending at 11 p.m. Thursday have been assigned to overtime hours to support those on the midnight shift at 510 Johnnys until closing at 2 a.m.
Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore said the department has, historically, had a “tavern patrol” shift from 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Two overtime slots are available, and usually one officer takes the slot; that changed six months ago when the department made it mandatory that two officers take the shifts on Thursdays to deal with issues at 510 Johnnys, Moore said Thursday.
If nobody volunteers for the overtime, then a sergeant on a prior shift will assign officers, Moore said. He acknowledged that it is “a strain on our manpower, strain on morale.”
“We just had some concerns that we don’t want an event to kick off there and spiral out of control and we don’t have enough officers,” Moore said.
Moore praised the liquor board, as well as the Sheriff’s Office and State Police, for their support in working to ensure safety at 510 Johnnys.
“We had a common goal in improving the safety of the place,” he said.