More than a dozen Harford County businesses were willing to serve alcohol to an underage customer, with all but three of those who failed not even bothering to ask for proof of age, during a compliance test last month, the county's liquor control board reported at a meeting last Wednesday.
Inspector Charles Robbins said 40 percent of businesses tested Jan. 23 failed to properly check IDs and turn away a minor during the surreptitious inspection, which used an underage police cadet.
Robbins said most of the businesses went through the motions of looking at the ID, but did not identify its underage holder.
"I am not going to make a secret of it, but I think compliance tests are going to happen a lot more frequently," Robbins said. "I want people to know that the board takes this seriously."
Board member Thomas Fidler said he was flabbergasted that, with the current economy and all the news about underage drinking, a business would still take the risk of letting an employee fail an inspection.
"It just boggles the mind," he said.
"This should come as no surprise that you are going to be tested," he said. "This is the time when we need our licensees to be the most upstanding... This is shocking. It's so simple to simply look at it, verify it and say no."
Robbins tested 23 businesses. Those who failed were: Amin 7-Eleven in Aberdeen, Chili's Grill & Bar, Festival Spirits & Wine, Good Time Liquors, Grumpys Bar and Grille, Ice House Liquors, Island Liquors, Northside Liquors, Riverside Pizzeria, Sapore di Mare, Steel Horse Pit Beef, Winters Run Inn and Woodbridge Liquors.
Robbins noted the employee at Island Liquors checked the 18-year-old cadet's license and still sold to him, which the others did not even ask for ID.
The businesses that passed were: Abingdon Liquors, Applebee's in Bel Air, Beards Hill Plaza Liquors, Bonefish Grill, Bruce Bitner's Cafe, Carsins Run Store, El Rodeo Bar & Grill, Half Pints Sports Pub & Grill, Italian Sensation of Bel Air, Joe's Crab Shack, La Tolteca of Churchville, Lee's Hunan Restaurant, Lemon 'N Ginger Asian Grille, Pat's Pizzeria, Red Robin Burgers, Silver Spring Mining Company, TGI Fridays, Tollgate Liquors, Venetian Palace and Zen 16 Sushi Cafe.
Gino's license suspended
The board voted to suspend the liquor license for Gino's Burgers & Chicken, in Aberdeen, after the restaurant licensee stepped down and a new licensee failed to come forward.
The board had not received a response from the owner despite multiple attempts to get one.
Powell said Monday a Gino's employee had picked up paperwork for a new licensee, but had yet to turn it in.
The previous licensee stepped down at the end of 2013.
A manager at Gino's declined to comment Monday on the situation.
Board member Michael Thomson noted: "This is going to be the first rescinded license I have ever even involved in."
Bill Bateman's, El Rodeo
Scott Lukas said Bill Bateman's Bistro, on Route 1 in Bel Air, is temporarily closed as owners look for "a different concept."
The owner said the changes could involve the name, the food and "some cosmetic work."
The restaurant's management "fell apart" in December, he said.
The Bel Air location was taken off the restaurant's website and has been sitting dark.
Thomas Fidler noted Lukas "has been an outstanding licensee and a long-standing member of the Bel Air community."
Meanwhile, El Rodeo Restaurant, in Edgewood, was back before the board for failing to inform the members about a name change and some cosmetic changes, as well as failing to cooperate with the board by missing an appointment.
Owner Neel Kamal was trying to revamp the restaurant after being fined $6,000 in October 2013 for a handful of alcohol-related incidents, fights, a stabbing and employees drinking on the job.
A Dec. 31, 2013, inspection showed El Rodeo had several signs altered to remove the "El" from the business name. Robbins said he was told the restaurant was changing its concept to a hotel and restaurant, and an employee asked about converting a banquet room to a liquor store.
Kamal said he had no intention of changing the trade name, but just wanted to attract more hotel guests who may be turned off by the restaurant's image.
"A lot of older people weren't coming in [with] a Mexican word there," he explained about removing the "El."
He said the name and signs have since been changed back.
Liquor board chairwoman Sandi Tunney told him: "You still have to follow the rules and regulations and everything else."
Thomson added: "You are in a heavily regulated industry. We have people coming in here all the time to tell us things we don't even need to know."
"We expect more," he said.
Kamal said a previous article in The Aegis about the violation hurt him a lot.
"They never mention good things, they only mention bad things," he said.
Thomson commended him for fixing the problems, but said: "You have to communicate with the liquor board."
Fidler also said it is worth noting that Kamal, unlike many other businesses, passed the January compliance test.
"A lot of people did not," Fidler said, to which Kamal replied: "I am serious about my business."
Japanese in HdG, American Legion kitchen
A business billing itself as the first Japanese restaurant in Havre de Grace, set to open Wednesday, was approved for a liquor license.
Robbins said Lin's Hibachi, in the 1000 block of Pulaski Highway, promises to be "quite a restaurant, very fancy."
The restaurant will have more than 160 seats, including 15 or 20 at the sushi bar, manager Chong S. Lin told the board.
Lin said he owned the nearby restaurant China Kitchen for 24 years, although he has never had a liquor license.
The American Legion Post 55 in Bel Air has failed to meet requirements for a food license, as its stove lacks a hood and is, therefore, in violation of health department guidelines.
A Legion commander noted he has been working with Post 55 on a renovation, as the building has not been touched since the 1970s.
"The place is starting to look really nice," he said.
Fidler suggested temporarily suspending the post's liquor license, which is only used occasionally when the building is rented out.
Post members said they are hoping to get help from Home Depot to pay for the hood, which could cost up to $6,000.
Fidler noted: "I do have a concern with consumption of this amount of alcohol with no food."
Also at the meeting, the board approved a one-day beer and wine license for a March 29 variety show at St. Margaret Church in Bel Air by Part Two Dance Company; a one-day beer and wine license for a Feb. 16 concert at the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum; a one-day beer and wine license for a barn dance fundraiser Feb. 7 at Deer Creek Overlook by Harford County 4-H Clubs Inc. and a Feb. 9 Winter Doldrums event at the Student Center Globe Cafe by the Harford Community College Foundation.