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Liquor board denies Rio's liquor license transfer

Dining and DrinkingBars and ClubsRestaurantsRestaurant and Catering IndustryMardi Gras

The Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners, otherwise known as the Liquor Board, on Tuesday denied a request by the owner of Rio Bar & Grill to transfer the now-defunct sports bar's liquor license to owners of The Original Kilimanjaro, a family business that previously owned several local go-go clubs.

With four members present, the board voted unanimously May 27 to deny the request, which had been the subject of a petition protest by community members. According to people present at the hearing, The Original Kilimanjaro owners Cyrus and Michelle Kibunja testified before the board, as did several local residents.

The petition protesting the license transfer cited fears that a new Kilimanjaro establishment would "be a threat to the peace and safety of the community."

Prince George's County Council member Mary Lehman, who represents Laurel in District 1, wrote a letter to the liquor board's chairman, Franklin Jackson, urging the board to deny the application.

According to Lehman, the owners of The Original Kilimanjaro have previously owned three other bars: Kilimanjaro DC, Kili's DC and Kilimanjaro NYC. One of them, Kili's DC, had its license revoked by the District of Columbia "based on their police chief's finding that 'continued operation of the establishment presents an imminent danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the public' and 'a correlation between increased incidents of crime within one thousand feet of the establishment and the operation of the establishment,'" she wrote, citing a 2006 decision by D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which was not immediately available for review.

All three members of Prince George's County's District 23 legislative delegation also sent a letter to Jackson opposing the transfer.

Rio Bar & Grill, often just called Rio, opened nearly seven years ago in June 2007, after months of scrutiny from community activists. The sports bar opened on the site of the former Amazon Club, whose owners had tried to open a strip club in the building in 2005 but were rebuffed. The Amazon shut down for good in June 2006 after a patron was shot outside the club in April that year.

Original Rio owner, Sung Lee, pledged in 2007 to remain in the community's good graces and reportedly spent more than $1 million renovating the space when it opened, and subsequent owner Tak Yoon promised Rio would be mainly a restaurant, with a full-scale menu and seating for 200 diners, when he took it over in 2009.

However, the venue was cited for multiple violations late last year, including hosting a Mardi Gras-style event sponsored by a promoter in September and operating without security in October.

Rio closed for good as of Dec. 31, 2013, partially due to the owner's health, according to a post on South Laurel Views, a hyperlocal community blog.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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