xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Baltimore liquor board imposes small fines on several restaurants for coronavirus-related violations

Kislings Tavern (pictured in 2012) in Canton was fined $200 for serving beer to customers waiting for carry-out orders in March, which was consumed on-site. Back then, such activities were prohibited by Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order.
Kislings Tavern (pictured in 2012) in Canton was fined $200 for serving beer to customers waiting for carry-out orders in March, which was consumed on-site. Back then, such activities were prohibited by Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order. (Alexis Jenkins for The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore City’s liquor board fined four restaurants a combined $550 for coronavirus-related violations during a hearing Thursday.

All of the violations under consideration at the hearing took place in March, shortly after Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order shuttered bars, restaurants and other establishments.

Advertisement

One by one, restaurant owners and their representatives appeared by video call and described confusion surrounding the regulations in the early days of the shutdown, and what they called the resulting mishaps.

All four of the restaurants were cited by the board for allowing onsite consumption of alcoholic beverages back when Hogan’s order didn’t permit it. In several instances, customers waiting for carry-out orders were served alcoholic beverages and began to drink. For example, the owners of Abbey Burger Bistro in Fells Point told liquor board commissioners that they served beers to independent contractors who had come to the restaurant for a business meeting.

Advertisement

Thursday’s hearing came on the heels of the closure of two establishments by the city’s health department for violating coronavirus-related restrictions — Euphoria night club in Canton and Yemen & Gulf Restaurant in Fells Point.

The hearing also came shortly after an announcement from Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young that the city would allow indoor dining again at bars and restaurants, but at 25% capacity. Young’s executive order also permitted religious facilities, retail establishments and casinos to operate at 25% capacity, and limited outdoor gatherings to 25 people.

Hogan has called for a crackdown on bars and restaurants flouting his coronavirus-related restrictions, but has so far rejected calls to prohibit indoor dining statewide. Baltimore halted indoor dining July 22 after cases spiked in the city, but will let it resume Friday.

The city’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate remains above 5%, although it’s declined slightly over the past week. Global health officials consider a positivity rate below 5% a key precursor to reopening.

At Thursday’s hearing, Kislings Tavern in Canton was fined $200, Abbey Burger Bistro in Fells Point was fined $100, Charro Negro Bar & Grill in Greektown was fined $150, and O’Donnell’s Pub & Grille in Canton was fined $100. Each has 30 days to pay.

Hogan’s order from March states that individuals who “knowingly and willfully” violate it can be fined up to $5,000, imprisoned for up to one year, or both.

All four restaurants that appeared at Thursday’s hearing admitted to the violations, with the exception of Abbey Burger Bistro, which fought against them. The bar’s lawyer, Stephan Fogleman, initially argued that the liquor board didn’t have the power to enforce the governor’s executive order. The board normally enforces laws passed by the legislature, Fogleman argued, and Hogan’s order never received legislative approval.

“That order does not deputize the Baltimore City liquid board to enforce the order,” said Fogleman, a former chairman of the city’s liquor board.

Liquor board Chairman Albert Matricciani denied Fogleman’s motion.

Then, Fogleman argued that Hogan’s order commanded that bars and restaurants close to the general public, which wouldn’t include employees of the establishments. Since the individuals drinking alcohol on-site were independent contractors there to help Abbey Burger Bistro plan virtual trivia events and participate in a campaign to feed frontline workers, their conduct was permissible, Fogleman said.

But the board disagreed.

“Indoor consumption is still indoor consumption,” Commissioner Aaron Greenfield said.

Advertisement

The owner of Kislings Tavern, Justin Walters, told commissioners the two customers inspectors observed seated at the bar drinking beer March 18 were waiting for carry-out orders. He said he since placed a table to prevent customers from entering the bar.

At Charro Negro, a patron was drinking a Corona beer at the bar when inspectors stopped by March 19.

After the incident, the Mexican restaurant installed a buzzer at its front door to control customers’ entry, said Abraham Hurdle, the restaurant’s representative.

“My client is doing everything he can to comply with the regulations,” Hurdle said. “They’ve been doing everything they can to just float at this point.”

A similar situation unfolded March 25 at O’Donnell’s Pub. Several individuals waiting for their food were served beers, said the bar’s owner Kimberly Carrick.

“I was very overwhelmed and my normal go-to when people have been waiting is to give them a beer on the house. So I told the bartender give them a beer while they’re waiting, although I didn’t specify to tell them to go outside, so she didn’t,” Carrick said.

The board’s next hearing will take place Aug. 18, when five more restaurants will testify regarding coronavirus-related violations.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement