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Baltimore liquor board cites bars including Kisling’s, Abbey Burger in Fells for alleged coronavirus violations

Several Baltimore bars and restaurants are set to appear before the city liquor board next month after being cited for allegedly violating coronavirus-related restrictions.

The cited businesses include: Kisling’s Tavern, Abbey Burger Bistro in Fells Point, O’Donnell’s Pub & Grille, Charro Negro Bar & Grill, The Manor and El Rincon Troncaleño Restaurant and Bar. The Board of Liquor License Commissioners will discuss the cases at virtual hearings on Aug. 4 and Aug. 6, said spokesman Thomas Akras.

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At the first five businesses, investigators witnessed evidence of patrons drinking on-site, which violated Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order at the time, liquor board documents show. Most of those incidents took place back in March.

At El Rincon Troncaleño, the sixth business, investigators stopped by on July 11 to respond to a 311 complaint. They found that the restaurant was more than 50% full, patrons were drinking alcoholic beverages while standing and tables were less than six feet apart, all of which were violations of Hogan’s order, the liquor board documents state. The Ecuadorian restaurant is also facing allegations that it held karaoke and other live entertainment events without the proper license. Its owner could not be reached for comment.

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The businesses face fines or the suspension or revocation of their liquor licenses. What type of penalty they receive, if any, is up to the board of commissioners, Akras said. Harsher penalties are likely for businesses with prior offenses, he said.

In a letter to local officials this month, Gov. Larry Hogan pushed for aggressive action against bars and restaurants that weren’t complying with his executive orders.

Under state guidelines, establishments are permitted to serve alcoholic beverages indoors, but they must serve them to seated patrons. Tables must be at least 6 feet apart, and restaurants can only operate at 50% capacity indoors. (Baltimore City, however, is suspending indoor dining entirely beginning Friday as cases rise among young adults.)

At Charro Negro, a Mexican Restaurant in Greektown, investigators conducted an inspection on March 19, and saw one patron seated at the bar drinking a bottle of Corona beer.

Jesus Romero, the restaurant’s owner, said he heard from his staff that the customer was waiting for his carry out order, and asked for a beer to go. That’s when the customer began drinking it on-site, in violation of Hogan’s order.

“That was two weeks after they shut us down, and everything was very confusing,” Romero said. “We tried to do everything the way it’s supposed to be, and unfortunately, this happened.”

Romero said he’s not sure his business will survive the pandemic. With Baltimore poised to shut down indoor dining again this week, the losses may be too steep to overcome. Plus, the restaurant was robbed back in April, Romero said, and he’s opted to hire a security guard to enforce mask policies for those entering the restaurant.

Meanwhile, Romero is weighing how he’ll fight the violation.

“We try to go by the law. Some others just break the law very often,” Romero said.

When investigators stopped by The Manor in Mount Vernon on May 31, they observed a patron “who appeared to be highly intoxicated” outside of the bar, and when they entered, they saw six more individuals “being rushed out of a door on the opposite side of the bar area,” the liquor board documents show.

“The bar area was covered with beer bottles, half empty drinks, and empty bottles of alcohol,” the documents read.

But Josh Persing, owner of The Manor, called that account “fictitious” in an email to The Sun.

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That night, several Manor employees had gathered to help prepare the restaurant for its eventual reopening, and management provided them with pizza and beverages, Persing said. While there, the employees noticed a heavily intoxicated woman outside on the restaurant’s front stoop, and assisted her in calling a car. She hadn’t been in The Manor, Persing said.

When liquor board inspectors arrived, in response to a 311 call about a nearby establishment, several of the employees inside were merely exiting the building to go and smoke, Persing said, and were not “being rushed out of a door,” as the liquor board inspectors wrote.

Persing said he plans to present sales reports at next month’s hearing that show no beverages were sold that night.

“When inside, the Liquor Board inspectors quickly observed that there was not a bartender,” Persing wrote in his email. “They could also see that our Point of Sale system was not active, nor was any form of payment being accepted.”

“Following the incident, we were under the assumption that the situation was handled,” Persing wrote. “We’ve been left in awe.”

At Kisling’s Tavern and Abbey Burger Bistro, investigators observed two people seated at the bars drinking alcohol, the liquor board documents show. At O’Donnell’s Pub it was four patrons. None of those restaurants could immediately be reached for comment.

As of now, there are roughly 10 more bars and restaurants that are likely to face coronavirus-related violations at future hearings, Akras said.

“We are out there continuing to do our due diligence,” Akras said. “We’ll continue to hold individuals accountable.”

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