After 35 years in the bar business, Bruce Buettner is calling it quits.
The owner, with his wife, Dawn, of Bruce Bitner's Cafe and Grill on Route 22 in Campus Hills across from Harford Community College are closing their bar and restaurant after Saturday.
"I have mixed emotions. I love the bar business – I got in my first bar fight at 12 years old in my grandfather's bar," Buettner said Wednesday.
On Saturday, the Buettners are hosting a farewell party at Bitner's, where Bruce Buettner hopes to have a group picture taken of his regular customers over the years as well as his staff.
Buettner was before the Harford County Liquor Control Board in Bel Air Wednesday, asking to temporarily close the restaurant while repairs are made before a new restaurant opens in the building under another operator.
"I know what I have to do, but I can't do it while we're open," Buettner told the board members, who enthusiastically congratulated Buettner on his retirement and thanked him for being a good licensee over the years.
"You've been a staple, you've done a great job," board member Tom Fidler said.
The liquor license will be transferred from Bitner's to JD's Smokehouse, based in Baltimore's Canton area, that intends to open another establishment in Buettner's building. A transfer hearing is scheduled for June 25; the new restaurant could open a week after that.
No one from JD's Smokehouse was available for comment Thursday.
Buettner loves his county, his community, he said, his voice quavering, "but it's time to retire."
For daytime bartender and manager Kathy Ferracci, who's been there all 35 years, the closing is "kind of bittersweet."
"It's time for a change, but it's the only job I've had in my whole life," she said. "But I guess we'll move on to bigger and better things."
In other business at Wednesday's liquor board meeting, Acappella Italian Restaurant in Fallston was given final approval for an on-sale only, beer, wine and liquor license, pending completion of alcohol training for the staff before the restaurant opens (after the board voted, the training was scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday).
Michael Jackson will be the resident licensee and Mihallaq Rapo, who has about four years in the restaurant business, will run the restaurant, they told board members.
The entire facade of the Pleasantville Road restaurant, which will seat 80 to 90 people and have 17 to 20 employees, has been redone.
Jackson and Rapo were urged by liquor board members to make sure they are diligent in carding people who order drinks.
"History will show, we will be checking on our new licensees," board member Michael Thomson said.
The pair have made a "pretty significant investment" in the restaurant ($250,000 is the minimum required for the type of license they received), and Thomson said he hopes they "do it right the first time."
The Darlington-Dublin VFW Post 10146 was fined $500 for serving alcohol to a non-club member.
After receiving a complaint that non-members were being served drinks and bartenders were drinking while on duty, two Maryland State Police troopers went into the canteen area of the post on April 4 at 8:45 p.m. The bartender, upon finding out the troopers were not members, asked them to sign the guest book. They then ordered two beers and paid for them.
According to the rules for a club license, a non-member who is not invited as a guest by the club may not enter the club or be served alcoholic drinks.
Licensee Stephen Kresge, the club quartermaster, said he was the one who served the two troopers that night but that he didn't know the rules.
"I was under the impression they came in as guests," he told board members during their meeting, adding numerous state troopers were in the banquet room next door for a party, though the troopers who came into the canteen weren't part of the party.
"I didn't know. Now we know the guidelines," Kresge said.
The VFW post has two violations in the last five years: in May 2010, it was find $250 for serving without a current license and in February 2011 it was fined $500 each for selling to a minor during a compliance test and serving to a non-member.
Fidler said the board, which first considered a $1,000 fine, had a difficult time making a decision.
"We struggle because of your service and your service to the community," Fidler said. "But you have to do it right so you don't have to come before the board again."
An application had been filed for a resident licensee at Gino's Burgers & Chicken in Aberdeen, but liquor board administrator Judi Powell said that person is no longer employed at Gino's. Management there is waiting until after July 1 when new laws go into effect regarding residency requirements for liquor licensees.
Michelle Todd was added as a licensee for the Havre de Grace Elks Lodge 1564 on Route 40.
North Harford Liquors and American Legion 182 paid $1,000 fines each for compliance test violations.
Aberdeen VFW Memorial Post 10028 was given approval for an outside serving area, which is really a carport blocked off with orange fencing so members can take their drinks outside while they smoke.
The Harford County Health Department notified the board that the necessary work was done to remediate health department violations at Sizzling Bombay in Emmorton.
One-day beer and wine licenses were approved for Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, June 4 and 11; Harford County Chamber of Commerce, June 5; Bel Air Downtown Alliance First Friday, June 6; Knights of Columbus Council 6188, June 14; Harford Community College Foundation Craig Morgan concert, June 13 and Harford Leadership Academy graduation dinner, June 12; Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, June 13; and St. Mary Magdalene & Markella Greek Festival, June 13 to 15.